Communities in lockdown: how community groups have been adapting to lockdown

Communities in lockdown: how Oxfordshire’s low carbon community groups have been adapting to lockdown and continuing their carbon-cutting activities

From the very start of lockdown restrictions in the UK we’ve been impressed and inspired by our Low Carbon Hub CIC Community Groups, who have been adapting to the situation in a myriad of ways and continuing to have a positive impact on tackling the climate crisis and engaging their local community.

On Thursday 21 May we held our first virtual Community Coffee morning so that we could celebrate the achievements of the groups, and allow them to share their ideas on topics such as:

  • Hosting online events
  • Keeping their community connected from a distance
  • How community groups can support the covid-19 effort
  • Keeping climate change on the agenda during covid-19.

A huge thank you to all of the community members who joined us – it was a brilliant event and we’re excited to host more in the future. There were so many valuable resources shared and ideas raised that we wanted to create a summary of the event to share with the groups, and with other communities that this may also help.

What an amazing collection of groups and activities! I am so impressed by everything I’ve heard.

What our Community Group Members have been doing during lockdown

In the first part of the event members of some of the community groups shared their experience of adapting to lockdown, and new activities they have been working on.

Rose Hill and Iffley Low Carbon (RHILC)

RHILC shared a number of their activities:

  • Seedling swap: on 6 June they’re holding a socially distanced seedling swap. They’ve created a map showing the households who are taking part and will have seedlings available to swap outside their house on the day. Anyone is then able to pick one up and leave one behind. They even made it into a Guardian article recently about the swap!
  • Sharing repair tips: the group have also been sharing repair tips on their Facebook and Twitter pages during lockdown, helping people with mending their clothes, maintaining their bicycles, making plant pots out of newspaper, and more.
  • Environmental ethics webinar: Paul Skinner from RHILC gave a presentation on environmental ethics using Zoom, focusing on how we move from a human-centric view of the world to one incorporating all parts of the natural world.
  • Tree mulching: the group had planted lots of trees as part of their carbon-cutting activity, and members have been using their daily exercise as an opportunity to mulch and water the trees – which they would have done together as a group event in normal times.

Low Carbon Oxford North (LCON)

LCON have put together a ‘post-capitalist reading list’ for those who were looking for new reading material during lockdown, which can be found in their April newsletter. They’ve also been focusing on bringing their planned events online, including:

  • Climate Café: LCON were running a monthly in-person Climate Café, a supportive place to discuss how the climate crisis is affecting you, open to anyone. They’ve now moved this online to Zoom.
  • Climate Conversations: a two-part online workshop for anyone who struggles with having open conversations with friends, family, or colleagues about the climate crisis, led by Rebecca Nestor (LCON Trustee) and based on materials created by psychologist Rosemary Randall and the team at Climate Outreach.
  • Speaker events: the group had a couple of speaker events already being planned, which have now moved online, and are planning more future events. Currently this includes an event on sustainable fashion, and one on divestment.

Bikes for key workers – a collaborative project

Alison Hill, who is Chair of Low Carbon Oxford North as well as Chair of Cyclox, also shared her involvement with a collaborative project which is providing free, refurbished bikes to key workers in Oxford, led by Cyclox and Active Oxfordshire but with involvement from several other parties.

The campaign was inspired by the Windrush Project in Witney, and involves bikes being worked on by volunteer mechanics to become road worthy once more. To facilitate this and pay for parts, they have been running a fundraising campaign which has raised an incredible amount of over £6,000 in just four weeks – including a £1000 donation from the Low Carbon Hub.  

So far, they’ve been able to provide 50 bikes to key workers and find 14 volunteer mechanics to support the project – but they still want to do more. If you have a bike you’d like to donate please email, and if you’d like to refer a key worker to the scheme please email

I went to collect the bike this evening and I was blown away – what a fantastic bike. Thank you so much, I will put it to good use.

I have now managed to cycle to work for about a week now and am growing in confidence each day, even to the point of enjoyment, granted I am building momentum to enable me to make this a frequent (daily) thing. It is nothing short of a miracle that I am back riding.

Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust (WeSET)

Westmill have welcomed over 1,000 visitors on tours of their wind and solar farms, but unfortunately cannot offer these tours in-person currently. So, they’ve created a virtual tour on YouTube, giving a behind the scenes look at the farm.

They’ve also been working on developing a set of educational resources (lesson plans, presentations, activities) around energy and renewables to support home-schooling.

Sustainable Charlbury

Sustainable Charlbury are meeting regularly, having moved their meetings to Zoom. They have been using this time to complete their admin, including accounts, ready for being able to start back up again properly.

The group has also been working on their plan for engaging the wider community with their work, as they often feel that they’re ‘preaching to the converted’. They’ve gathered momentum with this recently through engaging with their town council, after over 900 people signed a petition asking the council to declare a climate emergency. They now have a working group set up with councillors and community members, which is an exciting opportunity to have their voice heard at a decision-making level.

Sustainable Wantage

Sustainable Wantage have been encouraging foraging in their local area. They’ve been developing a series of videos to help local people learn how to forage near their own home, so far including:

Discussion: how can we keep climate change front of mind during covid-19?

After this, we broke out into smaller groups to discuss how we can keep climate change in people’s minds during covid-19, including feedback and ideas from the summaries given by some of the community groups.  Here are some of the key themes which came up during these discussions.

The benefits of covid-19 for emissions

There has been lots of information in the media during the covid-19 crisis about topics relevant to climate change, including: air pollution, shopping local, active travel and improving cycling infrastructure, biodiversity and protecting our ecosystem. It’s important for us to keep these positive stories about these areas going.

It’s clear that we can make drastic behaviour changes which reduce carbon emissions when we are forced to – we’ve seen huge reductions in manufacturing, transportation, flights, and more. The question now is how we ensure this continues whilst rebuilding the economy and ensuring we meet the needs of our residents – we’ve seen the UK’s lack of domestic manufacturing cause issues such as lack of PPE because we rely heavily on importing from other countries where labour is cheap.

For those of us involved in climate change, it’s also important to be mindful of the situation – these may be benefits for carbon emissions, but they’ve come at the cost of the health, lives, and freedom of many.

There’s also a concern that coming out of lockdown may lead to a huge bounce back which could lead to worsened emissions, as we’re starting to see as China restarts manufacturing. Which leads us to…

Boosting the green economy

We must find a way to rebuild the economy which focuses on boosting low carbon sectors and green growth, including areas such as retrofit and renewable energy – we can’t have a return to ‘normal’. For us, as community groups, this means continuing to engage with the decision-makers in our areas.

In Canada, for instance, we’ve seen Justin Trudeau announce a loans programme to help large companies, with the loans tied to the companies committing to climate-related goals.

This, of course, brings the idea of a ‘Green New Deal’ back to life. There was also discussion of the importance of justice in this, and ensuring that no one is left behind through green growth – with this webinar with Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy was suggested on the topic.

Climate change has dropped off the agenda

2019 was a huge year for the climate movement, with momentum growing across the world. We saw huge amounts of media coverage through the Extinction Rebellion protests, as well as through the School Strikes and Greta Thunberg’s speeches.

There’s concern that covid-19 has completely wiped climate change out of people’s lists of priorities as they focus on the pandemic. This is understandable, but we do want to keep momentum going and to highlight the connection between climate change and Covid-19.

Communities need to work together

One thing which was clear from the discussions was how useful it was for these members of different low carbon community groups across Oxfordshire to come together, gaining new ideas from one another and finding out about initiatives which they could get involved in too.

As we’ve moved into this mostly-remote world, one of the benefits for community groups is that we’re now able to reach a larger audience with online events and webinars, even reaching beyond the local areas which we’re normally focused on.

In some areas, people have also got to know their local community and neighbours much better, whether through setting up street-based WhatsApp groups or through seeing them at 8pm every Thursday whilst clapping for the NHS takes place. This gives us an opportunity to start engaging with these people around sustainability, using the ideas which some of our community groups are already pioneering – such as Rose Hill and Iffley’s neighbourhood socially distanced seedling swap.

This does bring another challenge with it, though, of how to keep events and groups inclusive when there is so much focus on being online.

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