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One of the Most Powerful Things We Have is Our Voice

Reflections on SCCAN’s National Gathering:  Re-magining local democracy22 March 2023 Augustine United Church, Edinburgh

This is one of the first conferences/gatherings I’ve been to where I felt energised at the end rather than exhausted.

According to research undertaken by Bupa and the British Lung Foundation, singing in groups releases endorphins, the so called ‘happy hormones’, into our systems. It’s encouraged by both organisations as part of a holistic approach towards staying healthy both physically and mentally. 

When Chloe, the singer whose gentle music opened Scottish Community Climate Action Network’s (SCCAN) National Gathering, invited us all to sing together as the last latecomers settled into their seats, it was an invitation to connect with both our wellbeing and the power of our collective voice – two themes which resonated throughout the rest of the day. 

The main ‘Sanctuary’ at Edinburgh’s Augustine United Church was set with semi circles of seats and chairs gathering around tables, forming a physical space in which participants and ideas felt held and conversations encouraged – stopped, so we learned, only when hands were raised high to bring those gathered to silence so one person could be heard. While the walls were decorated with a vision board, a map encouraging us to share where we had travelled from and information on some of SCCAN’s 1000 Better Stories of community action. 

How communities can, and are, transforming the economy. 

I’m inspired by the overarching common unity we all shared regardless of our individual goals. 

The Gathering’s Big Picture introduction was delivered by Dr Katherine Trebeck a political economist, writer, advocate for economic system change and co-founder of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. Katherine beamed in from Australia and shared a refreshing low tech  – not a  PowerPoint graph in sight – big picture introduction to a wellbeing economy and how communities can, and are, transforming the economy. Sharing the how, whats and whys of the need for a new approach to economics that’s kinder to both people and planet. 

We learned:

  • About the role of communities in building a wellbeing economy – an economy that hits the objective of social justice on a healthy planet. 
  • That a shift is needed in our economic mind set, to put the economy in service to higher societal goals – an economy to serve the people and planet, not the other way round.
  • That a profound change in the government’s management of the economy is required.

The starting point, Katherine shared, are the four corners, also known as the four ‘Ps’, of the wellbeing economy: 

Purpose: to re-purpose the economy to one of service questioning progress and economic growth as well as the current distribution of profits as a means to deliver economic ends. 

Prevention: in response to things going wrong and encouraging us to ask more. 

Pre-distribution: reducing the gap between rich and poor and designing more equal market outcomes such as worker owned enterprises and community owned solutions. 

People Power: people not just as the recipients of decisions, but putting communities at the centre of the economic apex with locally owned businesses and community owned assets and wealth building. 

She explored further the notions of power and the four different ways we work with it, or are impacted by, it: 

  • Power Over: make people do your work.
  • Power To: make change.
  • Power With: collective power
  • Power Within: trust in yourself and resist others exerting power over you. 

Katherine cited examples of tool libraires, Tea in the Pot – a community space for women to come together and look after each other – and treaty and truth telling processes, as evidence of people’s needs being met, and everyone being treated as equals, as markers of heading in the right direction towards a wellbeing economy.  

For those who want to learn more, dip into The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown Up Economy which Katherine co-authored with Jeremy Williams and published by Policy Press. 

Reimagining local democracy

Can we rely on enough people, taking enough time to take enough action?

Katherine’s talk was followed by an interactive session on ‘reimagining local democracy’, through which we explored in groups our experiences of power and the potential of community assemblies. We live in a world conditioned by the expectations of a Power Over system and relationships, which both encapsulates and reduces our expectations of what can happen. During this session Eva Schonveld and Justin Kenrick from Grassroots to Global  encouraged us to question if this system works, or if there are ways we can make decisions together, and better ways to bring out the best in people? We explored the processes through which we absorb the rules that stop us speaking up as we grow up, and how the belief develops through which we delegate, or give away our power. This encouraged us to sit with the doubt we have that the government will make the changes needed. 

All of which was followed by hearty vegan soup and sandwiches provided by Union of Genius and the continuing of conversation. 

Community Climate Action in Action 

A bottom-up approach is the best way forward to get the politicians to get the zero carbon message.

After lunch the floor opened to the voices of those on the ground working in, and with, Scottish communities. Alison Stuart shared the learnings, successes and challenges of setting up the North East Climate Action Network (NESCAN) hub, articulating the value of community action and the need to start from the ground up.  Followed by a SCCAN Members Showcase. Mary Troupe, a volunteer facilitator with SCCAN’s C4C initiative shared her climate change journey. Sue Briggs from the General Store Selkirk entertained with inspirational stories of reuse, repair and repurposing items that would otherwise have been thrown away. The story of Climate Action Strathaven’s community owned bus was shared by Alison Harley. We then headed to Climate Action Fife represented by Craig Leitch and East Lothian for information on the transformational change initiated by The Ridge represented by Jo Huband. 

Workshops and Reflections 

I’m motivated and re-energised. I feel more positive about my work. 

For the remainder of the afternoon we broke away into workshops – choosing between sessions on the Go Deep community transformation game, how to tell your personal climate change story with SCCAN’s two Story Weavers (myself and Kaska Hempel), Sniffer and Adaptation Scotland’s   Adaptation Route Map for Communities, or Workshopping Your Assembly Ideas. Before coming back together one last time to share refections from and with Andrew Williams, Environmental Projects Coordinator at CEMVO Scotland and the Gathering’s keynote listener. 

The takeaways from them the day were many: 

  • When we hide parts of ourselves, we also hide our genius.
  • We need the tools and skills to communicate climate stories that matter.
  • How can we define what ‘local action’ means without a good definition of what is ‘local?’ 
  • The value of networks, such as SCCAN, in mitigating the risk that individual communities acting at a local level may be duplicating work, or mistakes.
  • Stories, and storytelling, can help us make sense of the complex, overlapping issues we face.
  • Artists and creatives have the ability to reveal the absurdity of the system to itself. 
  • The radical can be incremental and small steps towards bold visions are as valid, valuable and effective as big ones. 
  • Mindset, policy and individual practice are all levels in transformational change. 
  • Local people just go and do, but no one person can do it all. So where can each one of us contribute, and play our part, in pre-figuring better communities? 
  • Managing difference involves deep listening and that our guts and emotions provide answers as well as our intellect. 
  • And, of course, that one of the most powerful things you have is your voice. 

Climate work in communities can often feel isolated and, at times, overwhelming. But SCCAN’s National Gathering closed as it started with a reminder that we are not alone, but one of many different voices singing the song of change and that our collective voice is alive and well and getting louder.  

Lesley Anne Rose