Building Resilience to Climate Change

Practical Work for Local Quakers?

earthquaker Issue 92

Many people, including Quakers, who are deeply concerned about climate change, feel powerless in the face of the huge changes in economic systems, politics, and societal values that are needed to tackle the challenge
it poses to the whole fabric of life on earth: they do not know what practical steps they could take that would have a wider impact than personal lifestyle change. When I retired from my job with an international NGO, working on climate policy and how to help those in developing countries who would be most affected, I too felt at a loss for how to continue working on climate change effectively, in this country.

Then in 2012 I attended the last of Woodbrooke’s Good Lives weekend courses, led by Pam Lunn. One of the workshops was on resilience, and we discussed very particular challenges that people in Britain could face as weather becomes more extreme: flooding, gale force winds which could fell trees and power lines, and power
cuts caused by ageing power stations and a lack of renewable energy generation to replace them. It was clear that Quakers could potentially offer a lot to their communities in the event of a crisis: the safety of a meeting house, where hot drinks and temporary basic accommodation could be offered to people flooded out or without means of preparing hot food or drinks. Our typical older age profile  with frugality and basic cooking skills embedded in us, would make Quakers ideal as leaders of local soup kitchens! Our listening skills too, and our stillness would be welcome to people suffering trauma.

Responding to a local crisis is only one part of what is needed – more important is building resilience in the community – a preparedness for the changes to come. Simple practical things like having torches and candles ready, or solar powered lights, and a supply of foodstuffs that can be eaten cold; knowing which of your neighbours has a wood burning stove where those whose homes are centrally heated or with only electricity could go for warmth, and knowing where particularly vulnerable people live, who would need support. On 23rd December 2013, Bradford on Avon’s town centre was flooded, as heavy rain led the River Avon to flood the bridge, the only river crossing for several miles. The Council’s emergency planning team and most Environment Agency staff had gone home for Christmas, and it was left to the police and fire service to shuttle people across the river, and for local businesses to face the devastation.

Before I got round to making contact with the Council to see what was already in hand on planning for such events, and how volunteers could help, I found that the town council was encouraging people to support a group called Community Emergency Volunteers. I joined this group, excited by the opportunity to get involved, and without having had to organise anything! It emerged that a near neighbour, affected by field water flooding, had decided to take the initiative.

We meet monthly, at the Fire Station, for a couple of hours’ training. This began with learning what our role could be when there is an emergency such as flooding. We have learnt what we would do to support the professional rescue service in managing people and traffic, and in helping rescue someone in the water. We have learnt how to erect the flood barriers for the riverside council offices, and to protect the bridge by erecting barriers provided by the Environment Agency. In the event of snow, our role would be to clear key pavements and footpaths leading into the town centre. The Town council has provided us with a full outfit of protective clothing, walkie talkie radios, and tools for shovelling snow. We have learnt about crowd marshalling and first aid, and learnt about the chain of command in a national emergency, from the government’s COBRA team, right down through regional, county and local levels of command within the police service and local government.

Our Quaker Meeting House is one of two Council­ designated rest centres in the town, and a few of us in the Meeting have been trained in what our role would be in the event of people arriving there following a crisis whether flood or fire or something else like a train crash. The volunteers number around 20 and what is really positive is that it is a much broader cross section of the community than many organisations. It seems our small town is leading the way in this – people from Bristol City Council, and other bodies involved with emergency planning have attended our sessions to understand how we operate. We get the opportunity to practice our skills at local events where we help manage crowds – such as bonfire night, or local cycle races, and through refresher training. I see an opportunity, through conversations on the need for building resilience, (where people become interested out of personal as well as community concern) to raise awareness about climate change and our responsibilities as individuals and communities for building our own skills as well a making changes in how we live.

There is a close link between this and the Transition Town movement, but the latter still tends to involve those already aware of and committed to making changes; resilience work could be a way to involve other sections of the community. I am offering myself to our local Wiltshire Climate Action Network (Wiltscan) as a speaker, in the hope of reaching groups where awareness about what can be done is less advanced.

Rachel Berger