Phoenix has been involved in grassroots environmental community projects and setting up squatted social centres for several decades. Over the last few years he has realised that owners of empty buildings often face huge business rate bills from councils, and many are amenable to the idea of a community group taking over the building on a temporary lease.
If the council is approached by a legal entity such as a community interest company or not for profit business with proposals that enrich the local community, then often a large portion, or even all of the business rates can be waived. The owner can save a fortune, and so often will be really helpful to the new occupants. Owners also have the added security of seeing people use the building and effectively caretaking, the council gets free amenities run by volunteers, and the local community gets a new space. A win-win for everyone.
So during lockdown Phoenix created a booklet teaching people how to open a ‘Climate Emergency Centre’ in 10 steps. You can get a copy of the latest version by emailing email@example.com
Phoenix’s model has been spreading, and at the weekend Islington became the latest of more than a dozen centres, opening its doors to the public for the first of five Saturdays as a trial run.
Bel Jacobs used to be a newspaper fashion editor, encouraging the public to consume more in her everyday work, but when the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in 2013 in Bangladesh, killing more than a 1100 exploited workers, she began to reassess this industry and her role in it. She also became aware of the urgency of climate and ecological problems and with a young child, she became involved in movements such as Extinction Rebellion. She sees Climate Emergency Centres as a way to communicate with people who might not get involved in activism, but who are willing to learn about what is happening, do care about the future, but might not know what they can do.
Anna Hyde worked in advertising for many years, but the 2019 Extinction Rebellion opened her eyes to the seriousness of the planet’s problems, and she became really interested in how citizens’ assemblies or deliberative democracy could address issues which 5-year term politicians won’t. She retrained as a sustainability leader and sees Climate Emergency Centres as a way to set up a network to disseminate information and share resources and ideas. Face to face community work builds up trust, teaches people how to work together and provides resilience in the face of emergencies. She cites examples of how communities need trusted information. Last year there was localised unprecedented flooding in London – knowing where to get sandbags, how to find an insurer, how to access help, are all things that we can learn and share in our communities.
Bel and Anna approached Angel Central Shopping Centre, where there are several empty units (post-pandemic), told them what they wanted to do, and they’ve been offered the space for free, opening each Saturday for events and drop-ins. They’re hoping to attract interest and further support, and look to expand as volunteer capacity hopefully grows.
Tom Bailey was there from TakeTheJump.org – a rapidly growing network which asks people to sign up for a month and agree to take six ‘shifts’ in their everyday lives. The concept of these six proposals comes from research carried out by Leeds University into how we can reduce consumption across every sector, and how much effect individual behaviour change can have in trying to limit emissions in the next few years.
He’s been working with football fan associations and other groups who wouldn’t normally be thought of as climate activists, breaking down the monochrome barriers that social media can often create. Once signed up, people are introduced to local community groups, workshops, training and more, connecting people and helping them to try the shifts for themselves.
He was among several speakers at the Centre on Saturday, including XR Scientists, and workshops on waste, the food we eat, the Climate and Ecological Bill, greening the local area, and activism in the Global South.
Check out islingtonclimatecentre.co.uk for upcoming events, and climateemergencycentre.co.uk for more info on how to set up your own centre or find out if someone in your area is already doing so.