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Full speed to zero

Gus Alston, CEO at the Stonegrove Community Trust and part of the ACEVO climate crisis member working group, writes about actively engaging in the fight to tackle the climate emergency.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Our small resident-led charity runs the OneStonegrove centre in Barnet. We are a young charity, growing quickly and refining the best ways to work with our local community. Our approaches are rooted in community organising, and a desire to be as democratic, bottom up and transparent as we possibly can be.

Community organising is slow iterative work, and we expect it to take 3-5 years to produce real measurable and impactful results to build upon. We have therefore decided on some other priorities to focus on over that time, and one of those we have thrown ourselves into most robustly in the last six months is our December 2022 Net Zero Carbon commitment.

Our trustees signed this off in November 2020, agreed our draft plan and timetable, and I would argue just as importantly, agreed to publish all of this publicly and immediately on our website. We did this because we value transparency and accountability, and because we want the local community to fully engage with us. We hope that local residents will support our ambition and our plans, but if they want to challenge them instead, we also want to encourage that.

I won’t describe our Zero Net Carbon 2022 plans here, as they are on our website. What I wanted to do today was to share the following:

  • Some practical steps I think others could consider, based on my experiences so far.
  • Accountability, and why I think it’s important.
  • Influencing Barnet & beyond.

Practical Action

Often I think the hardest thing to do is to get started. We didn’t start with documents or paperwork – in fact I must admit that I haven’t even yet drafted our Environmental Sustainability statement or policy! Target date end of April, so I may yet hit that (published) deadline…

We started by reaching out, to speak to and learn from those who knew better.


Like most people reading this, I am not an expert on practical carbon reduction and renewable energy, but others are. We are working with Power Up North London and CREW Energy, who have been hugely generous with their time and expertise. We are focusing on solar power, heating controls/building management, electric vehicle charging and heat pumps, but if you’ve got an older building the easiest change might simply be switching to LED lighting! You can find community energy companies local to you at Community Energy London, Community Energy England and Community Energy Wales.

We have also used Reach Volunteering to recruit volunteers for our Environmental Sustainability working group, securing two amazing individuals with huge amounts of professional experience. I had an exciting initial conversation with their chief executive Janet Thorne about our experience of using their platform for this purpose, and how Reach might be able to support more charities like us to improve our environmental sustainability in the future.


As someone in a position of leadership I believe that charities have an additional responsibility to consider the impact of how we choose to pursue our mission. I believe that how we do what we do, is every bit as important as what we do. I also believe very strongly in transparency and authenticity, about partnership and collaboration. That is why I am so proud to lead an organisation brave enough to openly publish our ambitions, our plans, our successes and our challenges. I am proud also that my board understand the importance of generous leadership, and that particularly with our environmental work, it’s not just about what we can achieve locally.


For me, the most exciting part of this work is how we can together influence others. While I find our environmental project at OneStonegrove satisfying, it will never make a huge difference in the overall climate crisis. The real impact will come from our collective action.

Barnet is one of only four London Boroughs yet to declare a climate crisis and commit to a net zero date. Throughout Barnet and beyond there are huge numbers of people passionate about the environment, and ready to create real change. As well as joining the ACEVO Climate Crisis working group, we have co-founded the Barnet VCS Environmental Network, connected with the Barnet Climate Action Group, London Community Energy and Barnet Multi-Faith Forum, partnered on a stage 1 NLCF Climate Action Fund bid, plus shared our progress and information through existing networks within Barnet and beyond.

Now I want to work with you all, to raise our collective voices. I know that so many of you reading this (if you’ve made it this far) will be thinking about how you can contribute. I can’t tell you the answers to that, but I can say with absolute certainty that our power to influence will grow exponentially as a group. The pool of skills, experience and passion with the ACEVO network is enormous. Reach out to me, to others, to the ACEVO team, in the ACEVO Community, and let’s make 2021 the beginning of a real change for our charities, our communities, and those worst hit by the climate crisis worldwide.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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