Celebrating Sustainable Merton's Community Champions

Updated: Jul 27

2020 at a Glance


2020 is flying by and our Community Champions have been very busy contributing to a wide range of projects and activities to improve our local environment, encourage sustainable behaviour change and address issues around Waste, Air Quality, Energy, and Food. Covid-19 has not hampered their enthusiasm and, so far this year, they have contributed almost 350 hours! Here are some highlights from 2020 so far:


Merton’s Community Fridge


Our Community Champions and other volunteers have played a key role in helping us to open and run Merton’s Community Fridge, a long-term sustainability initiative which helps residents during this time of food crisis and beyond and stops good food from going to waste. This has involved taking part in the Two Point Six Challenge to raise over £500 for the Fridge (Ellie and Blanca); spreading the word about Merton's Community Fridge to local supermarkets (Blanca); handing out food parcels (Sebastian); creating marketing materials for the Fridge (Hajar and Jo); and redistributing surplus food from local supermarkets (with the help of the Dons Local Action Group) as part of the FareShare Go initiative (Blanca, Luisella, Risa, Cristina, Karina, and Michael).


Thanks to all of their efforts, we have distributed over 1,735kg of food (saving 5,550 Kg of CO2) and provided food assistance to almost 50 families! A big thanks as well to our other Community Fridge volunteers Pauline and Catherine!


Weekly Web Chats


To continue to inspire and engage residents and businesses in local environmental issues whilst in lockdown, our Community Champions have taken part in our Weekly Web Chats series to share their stories, experiences and knowledge of a wide range of sustainability topics. This includes reducing plastic waste (Yanika and Emma), Merton Council’s Climate Action Plan (Cecily), switching to reusable nappies and plastic-free period products (Yasmin - picture above), the carbon footprint of working from home (Rachel), and a discussion around climate justice and the global pandemic (Sandy). These virtual video chats, which have been running weekly on Zoom for 3 months, have provided a much needed space for our community to connect, chat and keep the important conversation around sustainability going.


Community Champions Action Groups


To help keep the Merton community up-to-date on Merton Council's Sustainability action and policy, 6 Community Champions have taken on the positions of Team Leaders who follow the latest information and guidance under our primary areas of action (Blanca, Sebastian, Anca, Michael, Luca, and Sophie). This is an opportunity for them to share their passion, build communications skills, and learn more about interpreting policy documents and communicating this information to the public.


Our Community Champions have also contributed to Merton’s forthcoming Climate Action Plan through working as part of Merton Council's Climate Emergency Working Group (Alice and Cecily - pictured above).


Community Gardening


Many of our Community Champions are regular volunteers at Phipps Bridge Community Garden (Dan, Peter, and Gillian) and in recent months, several others have joined this wonderful food growing initiative, in accordance with government guidelines (Blanca, Karina, Katy, Mia, and Jo). On 22nd April, the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day, our team of volunteers came together to celebrate and, of course, tend to their flourishing crops of potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, celeriac, and soon-to-be carrots and strawberries. Spending time outdoors has become more important than ever for health and well being, and many people have found gardening and food growing, either at home or at an allotment, a great way to keep active and stay connected with people and nature.


Working with Schools


Many of our Community Champions are passionate about empowering young people to take sustainable action and have delivered presentations and workshops to educate and inspire. So far this year, Champion Yasmin delivered a workshop on waste and recycling at the Spine Festival organised by Merton Libraries and Champion Ben presented a workshop on climate change at Wimbledon Park Primary School. Late last year Champion Yanika also told the story of her eXXpedition, a sailing journey across the Atlantic to collect data on ocean plastic pollution.


Refill Merton


On 22nd January 2020, Sustainable Merton launched Refill Merton; the borough’s local chapter of the national, award-winning Refill scheme which aims to reduce single-use plastic by making carrying a reusable water bottle the new normal.


Four of our Community Champions (Luca, Luisella, Will, and Kate) joined us at Centre Court Shopping Centre for the official launch event and were pleased to welcome Natalie McClue - Refill London Coordinator. Our Community Champions joined the Love Wimbledon team to engage local businesses and put more Refill Stations on the map, and Dundonald Primary School's fantastic artwork helped to highlight the urgent need to protect our oceans as we talked to shoppers about how they can help stop plastic pollution at source, one refill at a time. Many other Community Champions contributed plastic-free stories to promote Refill’s vision throughout the week (Luisella, Angela, Sophie, Luca, and Yanika).


Blogs and Communications

Many of our Community Champions including Paul, Dan, Luca, Louise, Gilly, and Blanca have composed over 15 blog posts this year on a wide variety of sustainability topics, from sharing advice on sustainable New Year's resolutions, to stories of hope and positivity during lockdown, to reducing your holiday carbon footprint.


All of us at Sustainable Merton are so thankful for the time and effort that our Champions have contributed this year to sustainability in Merton and beyond! They have truly demonstrated the meaning of “Community”. A key aim of our Community Champions initiative is to build social capital and connect communities through environmental action and we have been delighted to hear from our Champions that being involved has given them a sense of belonging and empowerment in their neighbourhoods. Here are some of their stories:


Dan

Community Champion Dan joined Sustainable Merton in 2017, motivated by a lifelong love of nature, and concern for the terrible damage we humans have wrought on our planet.


“Thanks to Sustainable Merton I have been able to teach kids about nature, attend meetings with the Council on environmental issues, give my thoughts on Sustainable Merton campaigns and write the odd blog for SM's website. My main involvement with Sustainable Merton has been to till the soil in the wonderful corner of our borough that is the Phipps Bridge community allotment. Not only do we grow all sorts there, but all sorts of us grow it! We come from many backgrounds and comprise both young gardeners and those who have weathered a good number of growing seasons. I love the informal, fun atmosphere at the allotment, and the joy of nurturing all manner of crops. Why not come and join us?”


Sophie

Sophie joined Sustainable Merton in 2017 when she moved to the area. She has been involved with a wide range of projects, recently becoming a member of our Waste Action Team.


“I have really enjoyed being involved; attending events and discussing sustainability issues with like minded people. Recently I have volunteered to be more involved within the waste work stream and am looking forward to giving more to the team. Since lockdown I’ve enjoyed the weekly zoom presentations, learning about local projects and those from further afield. It has been a brilliant way to stay connected to the community in these isolating times and keep inspired to make ongoing sustainable changes at home.”


Ellie

Raynes Park mother Ellie became a Community Champion because she wanted to make a difference to the area in which her young children – Zachary and Marcus – are growing up. Ellie has been instrumental in setting up Merton’s Community Fridge as well as Merton’s Business Network for Climate Action.


“I wanted to make sure they are growing up in an area that is cared for, and I saw being a Community Champion as an opportunity to make my own difference to our local environment.”


“Taking part in events like the local litter picking can give you a feeling of real fulfilment. It’s amazing how a team of around ten people can make a visible difference in just a short space of time. There’s a sense of community spirit and it’s great to be doing something positive with like-minded people.”


Peter

In July 2012, at the age of 58, Peter was suddenly made redundant from his job where he had worked for 32 years. He was unsure of his next move and was left feeling mentally exhausted, isolated and lacking self-confidence. Eventually, his partner suggested that he get involved with a community garden group and this is when he found Sustainable Merton’s Phipps Bridge Community Garden project. Peter finds his time at the community garden incredibly fulfilling and it has satisfied his need for outdoor exercise. It's over seven years since he first became involved at Phipps Bridge and he has now taken on the role of Community Champion in addition to his gardening activities to support our community engagement events.


“The friendship and camaraderie has been wonderful, and every Wednesday it's always a pleasure to meet up again and discuss the week's events in between weeding and planting. Before volunteering at Phipps Bridge I'd never eaten anything I'd actually planted, and that is such an incredibly satisfying feeling.” Read more of Peter’s story here.


Blanca

Blanca became a Community Champion in 2019 and has been an invaluable member of the team since. She has a particular interest in food sustainability and has significantly contributed to the success of Merton’s Community Fridge, including through applying her professional Communications, Marketing and Branding skills. She also became a Team Leader in our Food Action Group and volunteers for Phipps Community Garden.


“I became a Community Champion because I wanted to do something meaningful for the local community and meet other like-minded people. I have to say that my experience has overcome by far my expectations, mainly because of the depth and relevance of the projects I have been involved in. I feel passionate about accessing fresh food and fighting food waste and I have mainly focused on those two areas. I’ve met some amazing people who really care for their community as well as having expanded my knowledge and experience around sustainability. Most importantly, I have added some new recipes to my "cooking repertoire" using the fresh produce I harvested at Phipps Bridge! (broad bean salad and potatoes with chard have become new favourites!).” Read more of Blanca’s story here.


Cecily

Cecily’s main work over the last six months has been on the Merton Council Climate Action Plan. As a member of the Climate Emergency Working Group she sought to represent Sustainable Merton and the wider borough.


“I’ve had a great time as a Community Champion for Sustainable Merton over the last 6 months. My personal interest and knowledge is on sustainable buildings and energy, which are responsible for a huge 81% of the borough’s emissions. I thoroughly enjoyed discussing the Working Group’s work at a recent Sustainable Merton webinar. The other talks that I’ve seen have been really inspirational too. Sustainable Merton has created a wonderful sense of community and hope during a challenging time, and I’m excited to see where we go next as we help to build a greener, fairer post-lockdown world.”


Yanika

Despite moving away from Merton, Yanika has stayed highly involved as a Community Champion in 2020. In particular, she has contributed to educating and inspiring Merton residents to reduce plastic pollution. Through both presentations at schools and as part of Sustainable Merton’s Weekly Web Chat series, Yanika has shared her experiences sailing across the Atlantic to collect data on plastic pollution as part of eXXpedition, pioneering all-female sailing research.


“It feels like the news has been a barrage of negativity for the past few years. Reports of the continuous destruction of our planet by humans have not ceased. It can get overwhelming at times. But being part of the SustainableMerton community helps to turn these feelings around. It is encouraging to see so many people doing their part, be it with regards to food & waste, air pollution, plastic pollution, and all the many causes our wonderful volunteers put their energy and passion into. They’re fighting the good fight and this gives me a lot of hope and encourages me to go on. We all have a part to play.”


Yasmin

Over the last six months, Yasmin has focused on educating the public on how they can minimize their consumption of single-use plastics.


“It has been fantastic to be a part of the SM Community Champions Volunteers team. I’ve been able to deliver my plastic-free period workshops with SM, alongside educating parents about the benefits and cost savings of switching to reusable nappies, which are less harmful to our environment. Running the workshops online made me realise there’s a high interest across the local community in Merton to learn more about how we can reduce waste and decrease our carbon footprint, therefore I look forward to continuing my work and creating long term changes within the community.”


Rachel

Rachel (far left) has been a Community Champion for two years and has had the opportunity to get involved in a wide range of initiatives. Some highlights so far include touring Southwark Reuse and Recycling Centre, discussing plastic waste with local businesses at a networking event and writing blog articles and book reviews for the e-news.


“Most recently, I held a webinar on ‘How sustainable is working from home?’ It has been incredibly rewarding to continue learning about the environmental issues we face, taking action on this and meeting others in the community doing the same!"



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