More than 80 of us representing around 50 member organisations met in Brighton on 3 February for SECA’S Annual Gathering. We’ve certainly come a long way from our first, much smaller get-together in 2019, but as Tony Whitbread pointed out in his opening remarks, climate change is no longer an abstract future threat, it’s happening now.

The day was an opportunity to reconnect and share experiences, energised by the inclusion of eight young activists, from OnePlanet, Petersfield Climate Action Network and Sussex Green Living.

Introducing the session on Watch Groups in the opening plenary, Pat Smith described the work of Brockham Oil Watch and River Mole River Watch in gathering data to power informed engagement. MP Watch is a national movement that started two years ago and now has nearly 40 local groups. Pat stressed that writing to authorities as a group has much more impact than approaching them as an individual. Her presentation is here.

Lisa Scott of Climate Emergency UK introduced the Council Climate Scorecards, which assess how well councils are working towards their Net Zero commitments. They’re a vital tool to compare councils’ progress in turning climate plans into measurable action, we’ve written about them here, and we’re holding an online Knowledge Sharing session on 27 February to review the results from the South East and discuss how they can be used to spark change.

Nicola Peel talked about resilience, drawing on her experience working with communities in the Amazon and asking: “Do you have a resilient plan for your community, or do you assume the supermarkets and hospitals will always be open and water will come out of the tap?” Carrie Cort of Sussex Green Living picked up the community theme, describing how Horsham’s recycling collection and repair café model has spread to 24 locations, with the newest, in Pulborough, opening in March. Her presentation is here.

Ben McCallan of Zero Carbon Guildford asked how we reach past the “climate bubble” to talk to people who aren’t so receptive to Green messaging. Effective climate messaging is a lot more complex than the traditional left-right binary we’re used to from politics. Ben will be leading a Knowledge Sharing Session on the Britain Talks Climate communication toolkit on 28 March. His presentation is here.

OnePlanet Youth Leader Hannah Lucey presented the Young Leaders Manifesto, the culmination of months of collective work and a call to action to Local Authorities to strengthen their climate strategies. Jack Zhang gave a reminder using images of his home town in China of the extreme weather consequences of climate change, and the potential for long-lasting effects on food supply and community wellbeing. Natasha Barnes picked up on Nicola’s message, stressing that sustainability is about understanding connectedness and relationships, and demonstrating how relationship mapping technology can help us to see links and collaborate around shared goals.

The gathering then split up into table discussions, sharing views and experiences on eight hot topics. There are summaries of the discussions below.

The event ended with Horsham-based climate campaigner Morag Warrack’s award-winning poem Spirit of Rebellion, performed by Clive Cobie (there’s a video here), and a rush to the station to avoid the Crystal Palace fans!

We collected your success stories from the past year in a Wall of Hope, which brought together an inspiring number of positive achievements. We’ll be looking to follow up some of them for the website or knowledge sharing sessions in the coming weeks and months.

There will be plenty to do in the coming weeks as we head for the 2 May local elections and an eventual general election. We’ll be running the ABCD Pledge campaign once again and doing our best to keep the climate emergency on an increasingly crowded political agenda.

What does it take to form a Watch Group?

There was a general feeling that Watch Groups were useful but meant a lot of work for core members so there must be a real, visible and pressing need to form one, especially as the likely founders are probably already committed to other causes. Discussions, led by Pat Smith, touched on the need to form good links with other groups and avoid duplication of effort.

What should we watch? Concerns included social infrastructure, planning & development, erosion of green spaces, pesticides & herbicides on roadsides, transport, air quality, water & noise pollution.

In light of the forthcoming general election, participants discussed the need to develop good relationships with all candidates. More is gained by a non-adversarial approach, and the candidates who don’t win the seat might join MP Watch! MP Watch are watching candidates, to engage with them and hold them to climate pledges they make during the campaign. This needs careful analysis of manifestos, and it helps to link with other specialist groups to share information and analysis.

How can OnePlanet help you collaborate better?

Kelsie Garbutt and Ryan Skeats demonstrated the OnePlanet platform, discussing how technology can help us to collaborate more effectively, achieve more and make use of the co-benefits of our actions, and highlighted the OnePlanet Community Partners programme, to support local community and environmental groups.

“A particular highlight for us was the insight into the unique challenges different organisations face, and how we can help mitigate these through using tech to do some heavy lifting, allowing everyone to get on with their actions and not be tied down with reporting,” said OnePlanet’s Tash Barnes.

How do we make young voices loud and clear?

The energy of the OnePlanet Young Leaders was a brilliant visual aid for this table, led by Suzie Wilde of Petersfield Climate Action Network. “The only people who can convince young people of the importance of voting are other young people,” was one participant’s observation. Instant responses were about using social media to connect — TikTok got a mention, though like any communication channel it contains as much disinformation as information.

There was strong support for lowering the voting age to 16, as is already the case for Welsh and Scottish parliamentary and local elections. Meeting MPs was suggested but with some scepticism about whether it would help the cause or just improve their public image.

Climate hubs – how do we make them sustainable?

Carrie Cort’s table discussed the various forms that Climate Hubs have taken around the southeast. These include repair cafes, refill centres, pop-up hubs, community groups and community fridges, many of them in and around Horsham. Other groups include a Library of Things, some are semi-physical “high street” climate hubs like Guildford, Seaford, Lewes and Worthing. The group discussed how we could sustain these through funding models, council or business support through to outright purchasing of properties with a community value status.

The group discussed how to support better sharing of best practice and experience. Could SECA create a list of funding resources? There were a couple of examples where a Library of Things had been set up using the local library as the custodian – can we develop that model? Surrey County Council Libraries Service has signed up to the Green Libraries Manifesto – can others be encouraged to follow, and to make use of the opportunities?

Finding an affordable site in a good location and securing funding is always a challenge, but advice included engaging with a Business Improvement District if you are in one, working in partnership with councils, and engaging the local Chamber of Commerce. Some shopping centres are keen to support community engagement to increase footfall.

What are Resilient Communities?

The need for resilient communities has never been more apparent, and Nicola Peel’s table was full of ideas. SECA and similar initiatives are vital in fostering unity and collective action among diverse groups who share a common concern for their environment and communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the power of local networks, with WhatsApp groups bringing neighbours together to support one another during challenging times. Historically, neighbourhoods functioned as tight-knit communities where everyone looked out for one another. Today, as we grapple with the impacts of urbanization and globalization, it’s more important than ever to rekindle these bonds.

One strategy is to focus on smaller, more manageable units of interaction. Research suggests that the ideal size for a cohesive community is around 150 people, a number known as Dunbar’s number. Within these smaller communities, individuals can develop stronger relationships, foster trust, and collaborate more effectively.

Town centres can play a vital role by incorporating elements such as food growing initiatives. Encouraging street parties and events where the community can eat together is a great way of getting to know your neighbours. Start with issues people feel strongly about. Find similarities with your neighbours and build bridges. How about a no-car day, or a community celebration? Is there unused land that can be brought into community use?

Effective communication is essential. By finding common ground and focusing on shared interests rather than divisive issues like politics or religion, communities can bridge divides and work together.

Educating communities about the risks of floods, wildfires, and droughts helps individuals to prepare and respond. This includes practical measures such as managing buildings, clearing gutters, and implementing flood prevention measures like rain gardens and leaky dams.

Ultimately, building resilient communities requires a multi-faceted approach that encompasses everything from community engagement and communication to practical measures for environmental stewardship and disaster preparedness. By working together and leveraging the resources and knowledge within our communities, we can create a more resilient and sustainable future for all.


How can we get the elections in 2024 to focus on climate and nature?

The elections table heard a lot of detail, and several campaigns are emerging nationally. So if you are keen to find simple, or more complex, actions please go to the SECA Election Toolkit 2024 for more info.

Key points from the discussion led by SECA’S Sally Barnard, Brenda Pollack of Friends of the Earth, and Neil Pitcairn and Debbie Annells of Greenpeace:

Greenpeace’s Project Climate Vote aims to recruit large numbers of “climate voters”, especially in marginal seats, and show political parties how many voters prioritise climate action.

Friends of the Earth want people to contact their candidates with FoE’s key demands (and especially to sign the Warm Homes pledge). FoE also provides election resources.

Zero Hour is running a campaign to get candidates to support the Climate and Ecology Bill.

SECA is running our ABCD climate pledge again for the local elections in May. Contact

Very simple things to do:

  • put a climate vote poster in your window
  • register as a climate voter with Project Climate Vote
  • tell your constituency candidates to support the CE bill with Zero Hour
  • share posts from key organisations on your own social media channels (Twitter/X is especially useful as politicians track this)

If you have more time:

  • seek out local groups in your area to sign the Zero Hour letter
  • go canvassing or organising for Project Climate Vote
  • tweet your local candidates to commit to specific actions
  • write to or meet with your local candidates
  • hold a local hustings

There was a lot of frustration on the table about our political system letting us down when it comes to climate action. South Devon Primary was mentioned. This sets out to shake up the political system by identifying a single progressive candidate for the constituency. (NB: This is not something that SECA can endorse as it is not impartial and focuses on progressive candidates rather than their climate credentials).

How are financial vested interests contributing to the climate & ecological breakdown?

Sally Pavey of CAGNE (Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emissions) and Philip Maber of EcoChi led this discussion, on an issue particularly relevant to SECA groups campaigning against a second runway at Gatwick and against oil and gas drilling in the Weald.

It’s easy to feel hopeless, but we need to remember we have achieved a lot already! NGOs need to be more like big business, to lobby and challenge government, with sophisticated messaging to change attitudes and combat apathy. The upcoming election period is important as it is one time when politicians have to listen to the electorate.

While many people are too busy struggling with day-to-day challenges to worry about green issues, there is potential to influence adults by educating young people. Divestment campaigns can encourage people to check their pension is ethical, and target banks and insurance companies that fund fossil fuels.

How can SECA groups support nature-based solutions?

Running through this discussion, led by Tony Whitbread and Henri Brocklebank of Sussex Wildlife Trust, was a view that solutions need to be fundable. Therefore, the cost of nature-based solutions (and who pays), or alternatively cost/risk reduction from nature (and who benefits) was considered.

One theme was supporting the positive management of woodlands. Traditional coppice management, supported by local communities getting products from a network of locally managed woods, also supports co-benefits such as carbon sequestration, flood reduction, community activity and the arts. In turn, carbon sequestration in the form of biochar could be fed into regenerative agriculture and gardening to help with carbon positive forms of food production. This could form the basis of a community of interest around woodland management and appreciation.

Flooding, drought, and wildfire are all things that need addressing through a more resilient nature. The restoration of flood plains to absorb flooding is key and community support for beaver reintroduction could be a major element. Wildfire is currently limited in UK habitats, but with warming we could find that fire risk increases.

Suggestions included: campaigning to stop pesticide use in garden centres (to help pollinators), establishing rainwater gardens in community space (reducing flood risk and helping sequester carbon), campaigning for public authorities (eg Highways England) to have nature connectedness as one of their measures of success. These support a functioning nature with climate benefits and increased resilience.

The link of nature appreciation to gardening was raised as something local groups could promote. This could bring in benefits such as wildlife gardening and pesticide reduction, along with growing our own food and the community benefits from sharing local food grown in a wildlife friendly way.

Improving nature connectivity through communities getting involved in initiatives like Weald to Waves would redefine local green spaces as part of a wider network.

Nature-based solutions should not just be considered in relation to the local area. Preventing use of peat for instance will support peatland conservation in northern UK, defending one of the largest carbon deposits in the country. Similarly, the rich global north, which does most of the damage, should support nature-based solutions in the global south, which has much of the biodiversity, is suffering most and has done least to cause the problems.

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