In this series of case studies, sector leaders outline some of the steps they have taken to drive climate action in their organisations. This doesn’t mean they have completed everything, but that they have picked a place to start, which unblocks fear and drives action in other areas. We hope this series gives you lots of ideas for climate action in your own organisation. If you would like to submit a case study to keep this series going, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page
This week, we hear from Trust Links, a mental health charity building community resilience and wellbeing in South East Essex, providing a range of support to build stronger communities and promote sustainable living.
Can you describe the actions you have taken? How did you identify the problem and implement a process?
As a mental health charity, one of our main projects is working with our members on therapeutic community gardens. People come once or twice a week to work on our gardens, through referrals from various public service channels. We work with around 3000 beneficiaries every year. Our therapeutic gardens have given us a good basis from which to build our environmental objectives, and we added a charitable objective to include environmental education and ensure a strategic focus. Climate breakdown is a huge issue in the mental health space with eco-anxiety, and we have promoted sustainable practices across our gardens: they are organic and make use of straw bale insulated buildings, solar panels, water efficiency measures, composting toilets and recycling facilities. They also engage people with wildlife and nature through bug hotels, beehives and chickens. In one of the most densely populated areas of the East of England, an urban garden with mature oak trees and a space to promote engagement with the natural world is hugely important for mental wellbeing.
We also work on educating our community on environmental issues and have been working with our local council on Eco Days, engaging people in environmental action at a community level. This includes sessions on food waste and growth, energy saving in the home, mending clothes and existing possessions and more. This is part of our goal to build a culture around protecting, valuing and considering our environment, supporting people to tackle eco-anxiety with agency over their personal choices and building a community around the issues. Finally, our internal staff working group keep momentum behind this work by discussing how it relates to their individual workstreams and taking particular actions forward which are relevant, again driving culture change across the charity.
What has been successful? What would you most like to celebrate from the action you took?
Threading the environment through existing work transforms culture quickly. Sustainability and community values are at the heart of our work, and we have been able to build ongoing change and mindset shifts rather than projects which stop and start. The environment is such an important issue for mental health so we are really pleased to have been able to thread it through our services in this way.
What has been most challenging? Have you had to change your approach in any areas?
Funding is a huge challenge in this work, and until fairly recently it was hard to find dedicated funding. However, we have found that thinking holistically about the type of support we seek and how we frame environment helps us to be successful. For example, greener, healthier environments and community engagement in green spaces are proven to make people happier and healthier: this can be funded through a focus on transforming lives but also a focus on nature and climate. More flexibility from funders on this would really help people start to embed the environment in their ongoing work.
What did you learn from starting work in this area? What learning points would you most like to share with other leaders?
Looking for the links in existing work is a good place to start, and considering broader ways to engage a variety of people around an issue – for example, a community litter pick helped our members connect with their surroundings and community. Taking the first step helps people see the benefit of this work, and feel good as a result, especially in the wellbeing context. Even for those who don’t feel strongly about the climate yet, engaging with nature is good for us for numerous reasons.
How could the sector more effectively collaborate or share knowledge in this space? Can ACEVO or other membership bodies support this work in ways which would have helped you?
Sharing positive examples of people who have done this work to inspire others would be a good way of sharing knowledge, and crucially we need to see funders take action. If national charities have resources which would help others, making these open access will also ensure everyone is doing what they can. Finally, engaging service users in different parts of the sector to build our understanding of how the climate intersects with a variety of missions and values would be a great support, and encouraging other leaders to share their work and knowledge in these areas. We have been working with other charities in Southend via CVS networks and connecting people to understand how we can embed this in both policy and practice.