Paul Allen reports from his travels around Ireland as part of the innovative Convergence Festival.
Sometimes we have to dig a little below the surface to see what’s really there. I have now completed my tour delivering Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) presentations across Ireland, and I feel I have not only learned a lot about what’s going on there but also experienced the power of pulling together conversations around community action on climate.
My task was to share the learning and stories from ZCB at the 2017 ‘Convergence Festival’ run by educational charity Cultivate, celebrating Ireland’s community response to global challenges. The Convergence events bring together community champions, social entrepreneurs, researchers, networkers, support agencies and policy-makers from across Ireland. The aim is to identify and celebrate best practices, build capacity in local change-makers, and promote widespread understanding of the actions local communities can take to transform our lives and the places we live.
On Saturday 16th September we began with the Housing Ourselves conference at Cloughjordan Ecovillage, Tipperary. This event aimed to foster a community-led approach to housing by bringing together people and organisations with expertise and experience in various areas including cooperative housing, co-living projects, community land-trusts, community development, planning systems, green building and social finance.
On Monday 18th we headed to Dublin City University to begin a series of events titled Stories and Conversations for a Low-Carbon Ireland. These events aimed to inspire increased engagement in community-led initiatives, social enterprises, wellbeing projects and climate solutions. Each event opened with local projects telling their own story, followed by a café conversation exploring questions designed to bring a deeper understanding of our common cause and actions that might enable more local initiatives. In the closing session I shared key lessons from CAT’s latest Zero Carbon Britain work. The Dublin session was followed by ‘Stories and Conversations’ events in Carlow, Cloughjordan and Galway.
On Friday we were back in Cloughjordan again for a different event, Engaging Citizens in Community-Led Transitions. Here we set out to explore how we best encourage more public participation in climate action, while improving citizen engagement in local community initiatives. I offered an overview of how and where we have been communicating ZCB across the UK, and how it has led to the development of local groups in places such as Edinburgh and Liverpool.
For each of these events, the Convergence coordinator Davie Philip and I would arrive at our new town or city in time to spend a few hours visiting the local museums and civic spaces so we could at least begin to understand some of the challenges and opportunities in each area. Like so other many places, town centres across Ireland are facing challenges driven by too much traffic, out-of-town supermarkets and the rise of internet shopping. The cafés were clearly doing fine, as were the vape shops, betting shops, pound shops and charity shops; cars were in greater quantities than the local infrastructure seemed able to cope with – so communities seemed a little challenged.
However, from 7pm in a convenient local venue at each location, active community citizens from that town or city began to assemble for Convergence. The evening would open with stories from real-life projects actively working to change their local areas – community energy, retrofit, transport, food and collective gardens. My role was to present CAT’s ZCB technical scenario, to clearly show we have all the tools and technologies needed to meet our climate commitments, hopefully inspiring researchers to explore models for a Zero Carbon Ireland. I was also asked to share stories and findings from CAT’s new Making it Happen report. Once we scraped a little below the surface, we found an amazing diversity of empowered community projects. The key challenge they face, and indeed we all face, is that all this powerful collective practice – and the sense of purpose, opportunity and wellbeing they derive from this – is not yet fully transparent to the mainstream community.
As the tour progressed from place to place, there was clear recognition that one of the key benefits of sharing a scenario such as ZCB, which covers energy, transport, buildings food and land-use, is that it can raise awareness of the synergy between the various co-benefits, linking up those working in these areas into a common cause.
To find out more about Cultivate and their Convergence visit www.cultivate.ie