The environmental movement is something I’m proud to have been part of since my dad signed me up to WWF (the World Wildlife Fund, not the wrestling) when I was a child. But for years the issue has been marginal. In part that’s been because people haven’t felt like they could either get involved in the efforts themselves, or that they couldn’t make a difference. It’s also true that quite often people have felt like they’ve been lectured about what they need to do – and nobody likes that. When I talk to local people, they tell me they’re interested in making our town better and looking after their local area to help the planet too. I agree.
That’s precisely why I believe we’re never going to succeed at fighting the climate emergency if it’s always a problem primarily overseen by one person or organisation, like a council, wagging fingers from behind a desk.
This week, we’ve passed two important milestones in the battle to ensure all of Cheltenham is empowered in acting on the climate. Alongside the good people at Vision 21, we’ve launched the Cheltenham Zero partnership. And in the Council we’ve launched the Cheltenham Zero community fund so local areas have a chance to access funding for their environment projects.
The Cheltenham Zero partnership will be really important to bring together businesses, community groups, public sector organisations and charities. The conferences in January set this work on the way and this week the founder partners started signing up. Every partner will be pledging support to help our town get to carbon neutrality by 2030. That might be by spending money, sharing expertise, working with others on green projects or just making no or low-cost changes to their day-to-day activities. Over time, this will enable more and more people to be involved in a way that works for them and helps the environment too. Crucially, it will draw on the goodwill that we know exists across our town.
The Cheltenham Zero community fund will provide a kick-start to local activities. This might be an energy scheme at a community hall, a project to tackle school run congestion or something to boost nature with more bee-friendly plants or trees. It might be as simple as planting trees in a grass verge to stop nuisance parking. Or it might be something different entirely. As long as your idea helps the planet, nature and biodiversity, and its success can be measured, the fund is open to you.
Over time, we’ll have lots of new projects that will make our town cleaner and greener, improving local areas and making us all better off. Cheltenham will be an even better place as a result. It won’t happen overnight, but over time we’ll all notice the positive changes.
- Councillor Max Wilkinson, cabinet member for climate and communities.