Let’s celebrate community climate action already taking place in Edinburgh

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 16:57

Commissioner Bridie Ashrowan, is CEO of EVOC. She highlights examples of dynamic and inspiring community action taking place across the city which is helping to tackle climate change.

Edinburgh has a rich tapestry of community action on climate change. 

Its citizens have set up everything from small community run gardens, to award-winning social enterprises in the circular economy. 

I will use this blog to celebrate others and highlight examples of dynamic and inspiring community action on climate change and the environment.  

Climate action through food and growing

We sometimes forget the powerful role city communities can play in habitat restoration, as species adapt and change in response to habitats lost to climate and city expansion.

The explosion of local community gardens has helped to slow does this decline and is a great example of long-term action. 

Work of the community on the Magdelene Estate, a former council estate in the Craigmillar area that was supported by Edible Estates, Murrayburn & Hailesland Community Garden, Broomhouse Community Garden and Wester Hailes are not overnight success stories. Instead they’re the patient work of a dedicated few who had the trust and confidence to get started and then reach out to involve a wider audience. 

And, as well as tremendous community benefits, and many unintended positive consequences, such as reducing social isolation to these projects, there are environmental benefits to these spaces too from attracting bees and other wildlife to new green spaces.

Meanwhile, young people in Scotland and across the world have played a significant role in highlighting the climate emergency and in pushing for action.  

This is highlighted in this short, hard-hitting film about food waste produced in Edinburgh by SCORE Scotland’s young people. In their film a young person reveals the scale of food waste and highlights the value of food sharing. It’s an example where young folk, from the BAME community, are playing a leading role in national action on climate change. 

Community collaboration is key to success 

Collaboration and teamwork is key to Edinburgh reaching its net zero target. That’s why I’m very excited about a number of new alliances which have sprung up to help encourage change.

These include Our Future Edinburgh, an alliance of communities and groups based in Edinburgh and the Lothians, with a focus to bring people and groups together  to collaborate on actions and which transform communities, and act decisively on a just and equitable climate bio-diversity transition. 

Meanwhile, EVOC’s Thriving Local initiative which finds us place-based principles as a way of working for the future through the Edinburgh Partnership Board and action alongside the Poverty Commission and the Climate Commission and ‘Thriving Local’ communities.

Edinburgh needs personalised and interconnected transport

Last year a quick decision was made to introduce spaces for people, for cycling and for walking in Edinburgh. 

Following on from this decision, one of our urban development trusts, Space & Broomhouse Hub, based in an area of high in-work and child poverty, are developing an electric fleet to support their community, staff and their social enterprises. 

This includes e-bikes, a cargo bike, and an electric van. They aim to hire e-bikes to local people in the future, as well as helping staff reach folk in the south west community of Edinburgh. 

Projects such as this can help ensure that people have access to personalised and interconnected transport choices. We also need a great bus system, good service from the trams and safe routes for bikes, e-bikes, cargo bikes and adapted bikes, to encourage more people to leave their cars and travel in new and active ways.

Future opportunities for community action

We’ve never had the macro urban planning in places like Berlin that resulted in efficient district heating systems. 

Instead, every single home and flat has its own heating arrangements. In the next few years, it would be feasible for ambitious community organisations to get involved in district heating systems. There are powerful opportunities to be leveraged from such a move, such as addressing fuel poverty. 

Can we use this moment to make Edinburgh a global leader in mobilising sustainable investment, for example to introduce innovative models for community investment, to develop locally based solutions to heating? 

Could the development of skills in enabling us to tackle climate change be a source of social mobility, as we skill people up in communities affected by the pandemic? At EVOC, we would argue that in Edinburgh we need to be proactive about investment and design in intentional job creation and skills. 

This is a city with some of the highest, but most invisible poverty in Scotland (we are listed in the top 10 locations), and a targeted development programme could make sure that the communities affected by change are those who benefit the most.

Communities inspire ambitious thinking

Imagine standing outside WHALE Arts in Wester Hailes, on a breezy Saturday morning. This is a community-led arts charity and social enterprise, set up by local people in 1992, whose mission is to be the creative heart of a vibrant, thriving community and whose tenants include SCOREScotland. 

You’ll see young folks’ bikes strewn on the pavement and grass in all directions, and there is palpable excitement as the Dr Bike maintenance crew arrive - they’ll not just do the maintenance with you, you’ll learn how to do it yourself. 

At the Commission, we talk about ‘ambitious thinking’, and it starts in places like here. 

Through Covid we’ve seen the agile way in which communities can respond to emergencies. 

We need to invest in communities, in their activists, in diverse community leadership and community entrepreneurs – they are by definition the opposite of the archetypal hero, as you have to take others with you. 

We need to invest in and celebrate these communities as they are a key to unlock change. We have a shared purpose ahead and we need to tackle it together. 



Image of WHALE Arts Centre, courtesy of WHALE Arts Facebook page.