Creating a greener community: an interview with GC Carbon Saving Project

Dundee community fridge
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Creating a greener community: an interview with GC Carbon Saving Project

While looking into environmental community initiatives across the UK a few months ago, I came across the GC Carbon Saving Project, led by Gate Church International. The inspiring project was awarded a grant from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund to help people in the local community adopt low carbon lifestyles, while providing help to those experiencing poverty across Dundee.

So far, it has established a number of carbon saving initiatives, including give boxes, carbon literacy, a community fridge, community buildings and volunteering, and runs various green campaigns and workshops on how to live more sustainably. To find out more about the positive work they have been doing for both the community and the environment, I got in touch with Project Coordinator, Lynsey Penny*:

How did the GC Carbon Saving Funding Project come about?

Our project has been running in various forms since 2013, with the initial aim of making the Church and community buildings more energy efficient, I’m sure you know how much wasted energy these old buildings leak! I was hired in 2017 to do more community outreach, and since then we have started our Give Box campaign (which led to the Clothes Swap and Repair Cafe), Community Fridge, workshops – mostly on cutting down plastic, but also general climate change – and other events such as film screening, public outreach events, and so on.

How many people are involved in the project?

There are three staff members (including myself), but we have many volunteers helping with different aspects of the project: around 20 on a regular basis and another 30 for occasional help.

Members of the Gate Church Carbon Saving Project team

Can you tell me a little bit about the Give Boxes?

We have been collecting clothes and lots of other items in our Give Boxes for over 2 years now. The idea is to make it easy for people to pass stuff on – a lot of them are in workplaces and other areas people frequent regularly, such as supermarkets, schools and libraries. We primarily give the items we collect to people in need, which helps achieve double carbon savings, as the stuff doesn’t end up in landfill and the people who receive the items don’t then need to buy new things, hopefully.

At one point we found we had a surplus of clothes, and having held successful Frock Swap events during the Christmas period, we decided a monthly clothes swap event might be a great way to help people get into new habits of swapping or buying second hand, instead of automatically buying something new every time. It’s also a great way for us to pass on more of the clothes we collect to local people, as sometimes we get too much to pass on to the groups who give to people in need via Community Cafes and Clothing Banks.

Monthly clothes swap event

What is the Dundee West End Community Fridge?

The Dundee West End Community Fridge is part of the Hubbub network. In Dundee we have high levels of food insecurity, and we also have a lot of supermarkets. Supermarkets throw away huge quantities of food, so we want to try and save as much as we can, and then make that available to the public.

An important point about our project is that we don’t want to stigmatise free food. Many people experiencing food poverty won’t use a food bank as they don’t feel they deserve it, or feel that others need it more. It’s therefore important to communicate that using a Community Fridge is about reducing food waste and supporting the environment, and that the food is for everyone. The hope is that people in need won’t then feel bad about taking food from the Community Fridge.

In the first month of opening the fridge, we saved 3.4 tonnes of food – much more than we expected, and there are more places wanting to donate all the time!

Dundee West End Community Fridge
Dundee West End Community Fridge

How has the community responded to these initiatives?

The reception for Clothes Swap and Fridge has been incredibly positive. Most people are aware we need to make changes, and our project aims to show them the what and how, and also to reach people that don’t know about climate change and persuade them to also make some changes. The last part is more tricky!

Members of the community attending a talk

In your opinion, what key things can we all do to contribute to a more circular economy?

The main things we can all do, in my opinion, are:

To reduce meat and dairy consumption

Try to buy locally grown food where possible, or grow your own – it’s not as difficult as many people think!

Get on your bike! Cycle more, walk more, take the bus/train where possible. It also encourages you to shop locally and support your little shops, and get fit – win win!

– Stop shopping for clothes and unnecessary household items! Clothes Swaps are becoming more popular, but there are also charity shops of course. There are so many clothes in existence already, why pay big chains to create more poor quality clothes (which also use questionable labour!). I used to get a real buzz out of going clothes shopping as many people do, but since I stopped, I get an even bigger buzz when I find a second hand item that I love. The same goes for household items – can you buy from a Reuse store or charity shop and up cycle it? It’s saving me a fortune!!

*This interview took place earlier this year, before social distancing measures were put in place due to COVID-19. So why post now, you ask? Well, I felt that the important initiatives discussed here – some of which may be currently on hold – are particularly poignant and inspiring given the current social landscape. Supporting one another is more important than ever. Learning more about different community initiatives has inspired me to think about how to drive positive changes in my own local area now and in the future. I hope this blog encourages others to think about how they can positively impact their communities, too.

For 15 simple tips on becoming more sustainable, click here.

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