Imaginative and effective communication is essential for any local council looking to play a leadership role in galvanising climate action. In this blog, Lara Beattie, explains how Woking Borough Council in Surrey has stepped up to address this challenge with their ‘Planet Woking’ initiative. A dedicated website is at the heart of an ambitious programme of activities designed to engage the public and key local stakeholders.
What’s the big idea with Planet Woking, and what are you aiming to achieve?
On 24 September 2020, Woking Borough Council launched Planet Woking – a programme dedicated to all things relating to climate change, sustainability and biodiversity in the Borough. The Council has long been committed to protecting the environment. In fact, our first climate change strategy was adopted back in 2002, although our efforts began much earlier in 1990. Woking 2050 is our current strategy, and sets out a vision guiding our collective efforts to create a sustainable borough by reducing our environmental impact. In July 2019, we declared a ‘climate and ecological emergency’. This declaration recognises the continued priority the Borough gives to addressing climate change, including biodiversity and habitat losses, through strong local commitment and most importantly actions. The Council pledged to become zero carbon by 2030 across its own estate and operations and has developed a Climate Emergency Action Plan to deliver against priority actions.
The purpose of the Planet Woking programme is three-fold:
- To share what the Council has been doing to date to address climate change and sustainability locally;
- To raise awareness about what we’re doing to meet our carbon neutral targets; and
- Inspire local people to get involved and make, or continue to make, changes to live a greener, more sustainable life and gather their feedback for new project ideas.
On 24 September 2020, we launched a dedicated Planet Woking website that has a range of case studies and articles designed to engage local people and organisations to do what they can to make a positive difference. There’s also information and activities to inspire your younger family members on the site’s Little Planet Woking pages. Our launch video, which is featured on the Planet Woking homepage, highlights the importance of safeguarding our environment and features some of the great work being done locally, including Charlotte – local litter hero at just 6 years old.
Whose idea was it, and did it take some convincing to get Woking Council to back it?
Having declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency on 25 July 2019, our Environment Portfolio Holder, Cllr Kevin Davis wanted to develop a programme of engagement with Woking residents and businesses to raise awareness of the Council’s work to date and future priorities for local climate action. Originally based around the idea of an annual conference, the brief evolved into a programme of online talks supplemented with online case studies and articles.
The premise behind the programme is that, as per Mike Berners-Lee book “There is no Planet B”, we should all be working together to secure the future of our Borough by taking action to address climate change locally. As a key local influencer, Woking Borough Council can help to encourage the public and local companies to look after “Planet Woking”.
Who are your main target audiences and what’s the evidence so far they are engaging?
Planet Woking aims to inspire local people to get involved and make, or continue to make, changes to live a greener, more sustainable life. Residents, businesses, schools and community groups can all play their part and we’re reaching out to them not only through our dedicated website but also through our social media channels. Our Facebook and Instagram accounts continue to grow in likes and follows and as a result we’ve had some great engagement from individuals and groups wanting to share their eco experiences which we’ve followed up with case studies on the ‘Get Involved’ section of the website.
Over the next few months we will be continuing our programme of virtual talks based around a series of themes aimed at residents, schools and businesses. The events will also offer residents the opportunity to feedback their ideas for what more the Council could be doing.
The first of these events took place in October 2020 and focused on the theme “Home” and how making changes to our everyday activities can contribute to a sustainable Borough. We were joined by guest speakers Jen Gale, author of The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide, and Wendy Wakenshaw, Woking resident and founder of the Imperfect Footprints website, who gave inspiring presentations and shared tips and advice on sustainable living. Their presentation slides are available on the Planet Woking website, along with a recording of the online talk.
Our next event will take place on Tuesday 2 February 2021 around the theme the Great Outdoors. We will be joined by guest speakers from Surrey Wildlife Trust, Surrey Heathland Partnership, RHS Wisley and WWF plus a local conservation expert with over 40 years’ worth of local knowledge. The event will celebrate our diverse range of natural habitats and wildlife on our doorstep and highlight the importance of protecting local biodiversity for its own sake and so that future generations can enjoy it too.
How do you see an online resource like this complementing offline and other outreach approaches?
The current restrictions saw our initial intentions for an annual conference evolve into a programme of online resources and events but in actual fact, this has strengthened what can be achieved through Planet Woking, and is better environmentally too! Many attendees of our first online talk in October 2020 commented that being able to view a webinar at home without needing to travel to Woking fit in better with their schedules and also cut down on associated travel emissions too.
It’s great to see people face to face (remember those days?) but our way of working has changed and video calls and meetings have become the norm. We found this way of reaching out to people for the first event worked effectively and we hope to build on its success for future talks. It resulted in individuals and community groups getting in touch with us over the phone sharing their eco activities…these are now featured in our Get Involved case studies. Community engagement like this is exactly what we hoped for when we launched Planet Woking and we only wish to build upon it.
What’s your strategy been to link up with other stakeholders, and what’s their reaction been?
A lot of what we have achieved to date across local climate change, sustainability and biodiversity initiatives is thanks to partnership working with key stakeholders, commercial partners and community volunteers to meet our common environmental goals.
One of our valued local environmental groups is Woking Environment Action (WeAct). WeAct works to tackle global environmental concerns on a local scale, encouraging sustainable living and working in the Woking area, helping residents, businesses and organisations to make a positive difference to our local environment. The group’s work also contributes towards delivery of Woking Borough Council’s Climate Change and Natural Woking strategies. Woking Borough Council supports their projects and they are represented on its Climate Change Working Group to help progress our action plans and key objectives.
Action Surrey is another important organisation in helping local residents improve their energy efficiency and in tackling fuel poverty. It is an impartial energy advice service through which Surrey residents can access a network of trusted, local and experienced installers for various energy saving measures, such as loft insulation, cavity and solid wall insulation, energy efficient boilers, LED lighting, solar panels and more. Their Green Jump Surrey project was recently awarded £6.2 million in funding under government’s Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme and seeks to upgrade the energy efficiency of low income, fuel poor households across the county.
We are lucky to work with many organisations to progress our Woking 2050 and Natural Woking action plans. The Surrey Heathland Partnership is another example of the valuable work being undertaken, in partnership with the Council, to protect our local habitats and species and we’ll be showcasing this during our next online event.
What do you see as the biggest challenges going forward?
Rather than challenges, Planet Woking will be continuing to build on opportunities to engage the public (locally, and beyond!) on how we can all play our part to safeguard our environment for the benefit of future generations.
Lara Beattie is Senior Policy Officer, Green Infrastructure, at Woking Borough Council. You can contact her at: email@example.com
SECA is interested in sharing experience of other stakeholder engagement models. Do get in touch if you have any interesting examples or experience you’d like to share by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org