What can we do in Sussex about climate change?

Banner of the group Sustainable Living in Crowborough. Photo credit: Ruth Ash

As the memory of COP 26 fades, governments may have reverted to moving at a snail’s pace in their reactions to the climate emergency. But more and more of the public are taking matters into their own hands and asking what we can we do ourselves in our local communities to move towards a more sustainable way of life. This includes many people in towns across Sussex, where there is a growing movement of those who see action at a local, community level to be a key component of the world’s response to the climate crisis and to broader environmental concerns.

We all need to change the way we run our lives if we are going to reduce our carbon footprint and live more sustainably. But this can be made a lot easier if members of the community join together to help each other identify what needs to be done and how to do it. To this end there have been a growing number of community initiatives that are taking this open, co-operative and bottom-up approach to tackling sustainability issues.

Grassroots… and global

Transition Town Lewes has long been providing a lead locally. This initiative was one of the first to start grassroots action, as part of what has now become the global Transition Network. More recently, there have been lots of new initiatives elsewhere in Sussex.

It is not possible to mention them all, but some like Transition Town Hastings, Eastbourne Transition, Transition Town Worthing and the recently launched Green Transition Crowborough are inspired by the Transition Movement model. Others, such as Sussex Green Living centred on Horsham, the Brighton Climate Emergency Centre or Uckfield’s Green Partnership take slightly different but complementary approaches. 

What all these groups have in common is that they draw together people at the local level to seek practical solutions to sustainability problems. Nearly all the groups campaign on a wide range of issues to do with climate change and in order to do this, they are often organised into sub-groups that concentrate on specific areas. In this way, the overall groups can cover the different aspects of the overall problem. 

A group of people on the roof of a building pump their fists in the air to celebrate a new 'power station' there. The roof is covered in solar panels.
Ovesco workers and investors celebrate the switch on of their community power station on the roof of Harvey’s brewery in Lewes. Photo credit: David McHugh

Most groups will have people working on sustainable consumption, encouraging people to be more responsible individually in their purchases, avoiding plastics and other harmful substances, reducing waste and making the circular economy more effective. As part of this, for instance, some will organise regular Repair Cafés. Others try to encourage local food production or the reduction of food waste, through initiatives such as Community Fridges or work with local food banks. 

Greener transport is also a common theme, in that local authorities or schools are encouraged to facilitate more walking and cycling, or people are encouraged to consider changing over to an electric vehicle, through electric vehicle rallies.  Most groups also have an interest in community energy generation and better insulation and some have spun out organisations like Ovesco, based in Lewes or Forest Row Energy, who have implemented schemes to generate sustainable energy locally or help to improve building insulation.

As a way of being open to the community, some initiatives have established Climate Hubs or Climate Emergency Centres which are physical locations, often in former shop premises, where information and advice can be provided directly to the public, and individuals and organisations can develop practical activities to address climate change.

Doing what you can

What gives each group its vitality and encourages innovation is that they are all driven by the commitment and enthusiasm of their members and everyone in the community is encouraged to participate and contribute their own ideas on what can be done. This positive and open attitude is an important feature of transition initiatives and includes recognising that not everyone can always adopt the approaches that are technically the best. People are encouraged to do what they can. It is better to do something than nothing at all. 

The banner reads 'Transition Town Lewes ... local solutions for global problems', and features a mash-up of images relating to the town, including its castle. There is also a man on a bike and another person driving a green car.
Transition Town Lewes banner. Photo mash-up credit: Lynda Durrant & Chris Smedley.

The hope is that by demonstrating a commitment to addressing climate change in the community, these initiatives will also help to shift local councils and the authorities, encouraging them to be bolder. 

To be fair, a number of local authorities have declared a climate emergency and are taking positive action. Brighton and Hove, for instance, and Hastings, Wealden and Adur and Worthing have all adopted strategies and action plans and report on their progress. However, community groups can encourage councils to move faster, with greater ambition.

East Sussex County Council is doing some good work, but its recent decision, in spite of broad local support, not to adopt an enterprising management scheme proposed by FrowResource, for an innovative recycling centre in Forest Row, suggests that there is still some way to go. 

But even if the authorities are too slow, there is still a lot that we can do ourselves. Together, we CAN take small steps to make a BIG difference.

These groups would welcome your help – initial contact points as follows:

Brighton: via https://www.facebook.com/brightoncec/ 

Crowborough: info@greentransitioncrowborough.org.uk

Eastbourne:  info@eastbournetransition.org 

Hastings: info@transitiontownhastings.org.uk 

Horsham District: https://www.sussexgreenliving.co.uk/contact-us-2/

Lewes:  https://transitiontownlewes.org/contact/ 

Seaford Environmental Alliance and Climate Hub https://www.seafuture.org/

Uckfield: angie.smith@uckfieldtc.gov.uk

Worthing: info@ttworthing.org

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