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Lawrence Weston’s winds of change: how the climate movement can help achieve social fairness

James Goodman, Local Trust’s director of legacy, explores Ambition Lawrence Weston Big Local’s journey to social fairness and net zero to accompany a new report from the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE).

Polls consistently tell us that the vast majority of people in the UK are worried about climate change and want to see positive action to address it. A survey commissioned by Local Trust in 2021 showed that this was just as much the case in ‘left-behind neighbourhoods’ – neighbourhoods in the top ten per cent of deprivation also lacking in social capital and community infrastructure – as anywhere else.

Institutions trying to accelerate the transition to net zero … too often fall back on methods that bypass marginalised communities

It showed that people living in these neighbourhoods think their communities will benefit from becoming net zero, and want to have more control over the changes needed.

Yet it is still the case that they struggle to participate in the ‘climate movement’.

Ensuring every community plays a role

Institutions trying to accelerate the transition to net zero – whether they are funders or environmental NGOs – too often fall back on methods that bypass marginalised communities, engaging people either as consumers with choices to make, or as campaigners-in-waiting willing to sign a petition or get out on the streets, or channel support to where there is already a track record of activity.

But ensuring that every community can play a role in the biggest and most important social and economic shift we will see in our lifetimes, is critical. Otherwise, we risk already left-behind places falling even further behind.

A way forward

The example of Lawrence Weston shows a way forward. Located on the northwest outskirts of Bristol, the Lawrence Weston estate is one of the most deprived in the area, and suffers from poor housing and transport links and decades of under-investment.

Outcomes for people living on the estate are significantly worse than average.

And yet in March 2023, the blades began to turn on a fully community-owned, community-led onshore wind turbine, England’s largest, which will generate enough electricity to power the community’s homes, effectively cut the estate’s domestic carbon emissions by 35 per cent, and generate hundreds of thousands of pounds of income every year for the community.

How did this happen?

The importance of Big Local funding

Lawrence Weston is one of 150 neighbourhoods chosen in 2012 to receive Big Local funding. The Big Local programme targeted communities of around 8,000 people in size that were more deprived and had less community infrastructure than average, and were missing out on government or lottery funding.

It awarded over £1m to each community to spend over the period of 10 – 15 years, based on the priorities and decisions of local residents. Each of those 150 areas, from Par in the south of Cornwall to Lynemouth in Northumberland, has used their money differently, building on the unique strengths and identities of their locality and population.

For Lawrence Weston’s journey towards a socially fair, community-led net zero, the Big Local funding was critical, but their achievements relied on a wide combination of other factors coming together at the same time.

A socially-fair and community-led net zero

For example, the Bristol region has, over time, developed a mature ecosystem of people and organisations with deep knowledge and expertise on climate and energy, available to help, give advice and spot opportunities.

The city council has long seen climate change as a priority for Bristol, and Bristol was in 2015 made European Green Capital, which gave impetus and profile to climate action.

Perhaps most importantly, the dogged determination of the people of Lawrence Weston to deliver on their own terms, putting quality of life improvements and tackling poverty top of the list of priorities, was decisive.

A socially just transition is possible if trust, power and resources are put into the hands of communities

We need to come together

This combination of factors may seem unusual or even unique to Bristol, but the story of Lawrence Weston, set out in ‘We need to come together’: Lawrence Weston’s journey to social fairness and net zero produced by Local Trust’s climate partners Centre for Sustainable Energy, gives us a sense of what it will take for all communities to thrive in a climate-changing world.

And it shows how a socially just transition is possible if trust, power and resources are put into the hands of communities.

William Hague wrote in a recent article for The Times that “within the next decade…climate will be the dominant issue in politics…” and stated his belief that achieving net zero goals “while maintaining the support of the population at large will be one of the greatest tests of leadership of the 21st century”.

For a sense of what that 21st century leadership looks like today, go no further than the northwest outskirts of Bristol.

‘We need to come together’: Lawrence Weston’s journey to social fairness and net zero was produced by the Centre for Sustainable Energy and commissioned by Local Trust.

Read the full report

About the author
James Goodman

James Goodman is director of legacy at Local Trust