21 Oct 2019
From Botswana to Shoreham
In 1976 I travelled to Botswana with work, and saw the difficulties that people were experiencing with climate issues and the lack of rain. Once you become aware of the knife-edge that some people are living on, it becomes very distressing to think about what’s happening around the world. Botswanans value rain immensely – the currency is called 'pula', which means rain, and they use the word to express happiness as it symbolises abundance. It was a trip that had a big impact on me, seeing communities be so resourceful and mindful about the way they lived.
When I returned to the UK the sheer volume of “stuff” in supermarkets was something that struck me. Also, the way we interact with each other here in the UK: we’re emotionally quite distant, in comparison to Botswana where people were so friendly, generous and welcoming. The friendliness and openness of people I came across in Botswana mirrors my experience living in Shoreham, which is like a village in many ways in that people look out for each other.
Brighton’s best kept secret
In addition to a desire to reduce our cost of living, my wife and I wanted to move somewhere much smaller than Brighton, where we could really have an impact within the community, so we moved to Shoreham in 2002 after our kids left home. At the time it was Brighton’s best kept secret. It’s only 5 miles away but has a completely different pace and tempo to it, and yet it has its own art and music scene. We have Ropetackle Arts Centre, a multi-award winning, community-run arts venue and the Shoreham centre which runs a range of courses for people in the community as well as Wordfest, a yearly spoken word and literary festival. For a small town, I would say that it punches above its weight.
It was a friend that suggested that I get involved in the Shoreham society. I was initially a member (for a fair while!) before becoming chairman. I found it to be a good community platform for gaining feedback on a whole range of issues, as well as for having dialogue with the council, the local MP and other community groups. Shoreham is definitely an environmentally conscious area – not only is there good transport so you rarely have to use a car, people also show up in big numbers to back climate action. A few weeks ago, we held a big meeting on air pollution which saw about 150-200 people attend, featuring local MPs and councillors too. We have also been contesting the build of a new Ikea flagship store which will prompt an estimated 2 million extra car journeys a year, contributing to significant air pollution in the area.
Case study: Strengthening community ties, tree by tree
My wife and I got inspired to launch a tree project when we lost an Elm tree to Dutch Elm Disease about three years ago. We were concerned about the loss of trees and shrubs where we live, so a group of us got together and asked neighbours if they would be interested in planting more trees on the street. Many people said yes.
We got in touch with a tree specialist from West Sussex County Council who met with us to look at possible planting sites. We then sent a letter to all the residents on our road and informed them that if everybody participated it would cost £23 per household. The project was so popular that we ended up with an extra £200 above the initial cost, which we used for a street party at the end of it all! It was a win, win: people bonded over the street party and got to know each other better, and we all felt good about planting these trees. Following the success of the project, the Shoreham society has now launched a tree planting campaign throughout the town, called Shoreham – by – Tree, and in the whole area called Adur Arbor. We are looking to collaborate with other local environment groups to strengthen climate action at a local level.
I know we can do so much more. It’s very exciting.
Gerard was interviewed by our Content Writer Anike Bello. If you’re in a Climate Action group and would like to share your experience, please contact [email protected]