A Westminster research project conducted by Dr Mireille Tchapi, Post-doctoral Researcher in Sustainable Communities, and Michael Neuman, Professor of Sustainable Urbanism, has documented and analysed grassroots community-based sustainability initiatives in the most progressive and interesting neighbourhoods in London.

Sustainable Hackney AGM

The project identifies key social and ecological initiatives in different boroughs and then profiles the range of enterprises and social models they use in order to showcase London’s innovative capacity. 12 community-driven initiatives have been selected from among dozens that were considered, addressing separately or in combination, various themes such as local economy, food security, local greening, housing, local heritage and identity, energy and fuel poverty, sustainable education, liveability, social care, and safety aspects. More globally, the research project identifies the need for the transition to more fully sustainable local ways of living. 

The researchers have found that local residents combine grassroots creativity with local sustainability through a tremendous amount of energy, mostly on a volunteer basis. They raise awareness on climate change, lobby for environmental concerns to be operational at the local scale, battle to preserve a local identity asset or for more affordable housing, plant trees and vegetable gardens, remove weapons from the public space, and knock on the door of the most affected by the cost of energy. 

“Such major commitment, however, can also be limited due to its specific social demography,” say the researchers in the report. “This underscores the imperative to share learnings across London, as well as further afield, using a wide array of media to reach large audiences.”

Dr Tchapi said: “What is interesting in London is the concentration of grassroots initiatives, their network strength, with regards to the level of neighbourhoods' transformations, the housing crisis happening in London, and the social cuts over the last decade in the UK.

“Many active boroughs in London are facing massive redevelopment projects and local contestations, at various levels, tackling social and environmental sustainability. The extent of the phenomenon across London can bring specificities, such as the difficulties to get neighbourhood plans supported by local authorities, in comparison to other cities of the UK, for various reasons, among which is the particular weight of economic market forces. The elaboration of the London New Plan through the hearings process gathered a number of grassroots representatives to bring forward people's voices in place-making processes. Another singular event is the declaration of London as a National park city, the first one in the UK, which encourages many local actions to get greener neighbourhoods, and for some grassroots, to develop further the idea, with a green infrastructure plan.”

In the future, the research project is set to feed into a film, a museum exhibit, and a book or catalogue documenting the work that the London neighbourhoods are doing.

Read about the local initiatives collected by the London Soundings research project.

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