Changing perceptions through a Greener & Cleaner Hub

My name is Phoebe, I’m a sixth-form student based in South London, and I have been working with CMUK this summer on a voluntary placement. As part of this I was invited to the Greener & Cleaner Hub in Bromley, South-East London, which I visited on 1 August. The Greener & Cleaner Hub is a place for climate conversations and learning in a former retail space, and is a friend of CMUK through one of our associates, Tamasin Rhymes.

The Covid-19 pandemic that swept through the UK in 2020–21 was such an immediate social challenge, that any wider perspective on the planet emergency was obscured by the pressing need for effective crisis management. In 2022, the landscape around the climate crisis has developed further through the Russia-Ukraine war and the consequent pressure on global energy resources. In this context we must now review efforts to raise consciousness around the climate emergency, and particularly question how the rapidly increasing threat to humanity can be acknowledged, and whether we can respond in a way that is significant and timely enough to prevent the ultimate catastrophe. 

The last two years were a sign to me that the sense of emergency many of us felt was only a trial run for the bigger picture. Being able to finally reconnect with this bigger picture, in a local room full of people who care, was so powerful. Upon entrance, I was met instantly with the familiar sense of deep passion and community I’d been lacking for two years. There was comfort in the knowledge that every person who has decided to be in this space, whether volunteer or intrigued passerby, is here because they care about people and they care about the environment we live in. From those who have dedicated their life to this cause, to the younger children simply happy to be there, each person was content in themselves in the context of this room of passion. As a young person fearful of the downward turn humanity is on track to make, this reassurance felt comforting beyond description. 

Being shown around the former retail space, the vibrance of various groups, schemes and exhibits underlined the Greener & Cleaner Hub’s engagement with various age demographics. Volunteers guided children creating their own long-life toys and stuffed animals around a table, while various groups conversed by the shopfront. The back of the room hosted a striking wall-length mural, with eco-faced messages and motifs from side to side, a backdrop to vast displays of sustainable fashion and upcycling projects in the local area. See below:

A crochet group taking place in the Greener & Cleaner Hub
The Greener & Cleaner Hub’s mural
Sustainable fashion displays in the Hub

The space is also home to Bromley’s Library of Things, a project which seeks to help residents save money and reuse household objects rather than discarding them, by renting out various items from lawn mowers to stereo speakers:

The Greener & Cleaner Hub clearly thrives as a locally run community space, involving various people from the area and displaying the projects it does best contributing to a reduction in single use. Alongside this, it starts conversations around sustainability and the future of the planet, which is key to encouraging individuals to make personal choices about what they use.

It is fair to argue that the demographic of people engaged with the hub is limited, with a noticeable gap among teenagers and young adults, but more importantly among passers by of all ages by who don’t view themselves as environmentally engaged. Involving people who would not otherwise be interested is a challenge for any eco-movement, especially when a large portion of people think negatively about environmentalism. This can be harder when a space is so visibly environmentally driven, but it poses the question: is it better to be visibly environmental and only engage those who are likely already passionate or aware, or should we focus on understanding those who are unengaged in an attempt to approach them in a positive light?

As a 17-year-old sixth-form student, and as any passionate person recovering from two years of disconnect and fear, the aims and atmosphere of the Hub emits a very special sense of connection and community drive. But it is the current urgency of the climate and ecological crisis that poses the question: is the passion of those who are driven towards making a difference enough to make a substantial impact on the ever-worsening catastrophe? Can we work from the grass roots to achieve what we need in the shrinking time we have left? 

A significant measure of the urgency for climate action is Overshoot Day – the day in the year when human consumption exceeds the amount of natural resources produced by the earth in a single year. In 2022 Overshoot Day fell on 28 July, a couple of days before my visit to the Hub. In one year, the UK alone generates over 200 million tonnes of waste* and consumes the energy equivalent of 142 million tonnes of oil**, dependent on water availability and a stable climate. It’s widely recognised that little time is left to end our use of finite resources and reverse ecological damage, although the prospect of a full and rapid enough change feels so far from our current state, despite the volume of effort. It is projects like the Hub that can influence people from the grass roots up, but can we adapt in time with the effort of only those who are aware? Or do we need global corporations and energy companies, or governments for that matter, to change their actions and priorities in order to make global change in time? Without the change of global corporations and energy companies, it is fair to argue that a planet-wide adaptation will not be sufficient enough, or at least not quick enough. But is it more effective to change our consumption from the roots up, gradually involving people and eventually getting companies to change their products and behaviours, or is it more effective to hold a direct battle with these powers and seek to change from the top down? Though space for growth, expansion and more top-down demands was welcome, the Hub is undoubtedly effective in its grassroots efforts, showcased purely by its vibrant energy and intent to create a heightened awareness of ecological issues within the community.

You can visit the Greener & Cleaner Hub in Bromley:

Unit 268, Upper Mall, The Glades, High St, Bromley BR1 1DN

*2018 figure via gov.uk

**2019 figure via wikipedia.org

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