An exciting and ambitious new programme will soon be under way aiming to make Cumbria the first carbon-neutral county in the UK.

Thanks to a £2.5 million grant from the National Lottery Climate Action Fund, a five-year programme of events and activities will start in January 2021, led by the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership.

The partnership brings together nearly 70 organisations spanning the public, private and third sectors, with the aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions – the root cause of the climate crisis. Members include community groups, local authorities (district and county councils), the NHS, police, national parks, businesses and the farming community, among others. The partnership is jointly chaired by CAfS and Colin Cox, director of public health for Cumbria, with CAfS having put together the successful funding bid on its behalf.

This major programme, developed and led by communities, marks a step change in the scale of activity in Cumbria to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main cause of climate change. Never before have so many of the county’s most influential organisations come together with the determination to do this – organisations with the power and influence to make real change happen – from community activities to the policies that shape local life.

The programme of action will reduce the county’s emissions in a way that benefits communities, through action led by them. More than 35 volunteer groups and charities were involved in developing it, as part of the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership.

The National Lottery grant brings a significant investment into the county just when it’s very much needed, as we begin to rebuild after the Coronavirus pandemic. It will create 12 green jobs and will see a range of activities happening within our communities that will make them more sustainable, stronger and more resilient for the future.

It’s hoped that the impact of the programme will be felt beyond Cumbria, too. The partnership aims to show what can be achieved when such a broad range of organisations and communities work together to reduce emissions. The programme will trial innovative projects and share the learning and inspiration widely.

Find out more about the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership >

Why Cumbria?

Cumbria is already feeling the impacts of climate change – not least the kinds of extreme weather that will become ever more frequent in a warming planet. Given the increased flooding and longer hot and dry spells that climate change is causing, it has been identified as a risk to public health in Cumbria. Therefore, reducing the emissions that are causing climate change is part of the county’s Public Health Strategy, led by Cumbria County Council. All six district councils have also committed to the county’s carbon-neutral goal.

We also have particular challenges here that make our communities even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – from rural isolation to low incomes and the nature of Cumbria’s geography. However, our communities also have a high degree of resilience and self-reliance, with a strong foundation of community support groups, which this programme will support and build on.

The programme at a glance

This five-year programme will deliver a range of exciting projects – from activities within Cumbrian communities through to some of the higher-level things that need to be in place to drive change at the urgent scale and pace demanded by the climate science.

Within communities

People who live, work and study in Cumbria will be able to take advantage of a whole range of opportunities to cut their own carbon footprint and that of their communities, playing their part in global actions to stop climate change.

The programme will tackle some of the main sources of carbon emissions in Cumbria, with a particular focus on food, energy generation and the goods we buy.

These projects have been devised by a range of community organisations, as part of the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership. They’ve been chosen because of their wide benefits to local communities.

Here’s a snapshot of the projects that will happen over the five years of the programme:

Making sure the public have a say in what happens in the county to tackle climate change is at the heart of this programme. As well as community organisations devising and leading on a range of projects, the programme will set up a county-wide Climate Change Assembly and six district-level Climate Change Juries. These will bring together a representative cross section of the public to understand the issues and opportunities for significant action on climate change in their local area, and to make recommendations for action by local authorities. This empowering and powerful model of engagement will influence policy and infrastructure decisions with local authorities and other statutory and non-statutory agencies. It will be delivered by Shared Future, one of the UK’s leading experts in organising citizens’ assemblies and juries.

There will be a programme of youth climate leadership support to empower and skill up young people in Cumbria to have their voices heard and to influence those in power to listen and act. Developed in consultation with young people, there’ll be a range of engaging ways for them to influence and deliver climate action in the county. This may involve initiatives such as a Youth Voice training programme in speaking and advocacy skills and how decisions are made, a Youth Climate Council, Youth Climate Summits, a Youth Climate Reporters scheme to encourage their citizen journalism, and a programme of events for schools including carbon literacy training.

The number of repair cafés in Cumbria will be expanded, so that more people can get broken items fixed free of charge, by volunteers from within their communities. Research will be carried out into different ways of setting up repair cafés, including ways of recording the carbon savings. New groups will be supported to set up a repair café in their area. A directory of repairers will be set up, to help people get goods repaired, beyond repair cafés. This project will be delivered by Simply Repair South Lakes.

A low-carbon food network will be set up, with communities and businesses working together to create low-carbon menus and share good practice, with the potential to develop a Low Carbon Food Charter for Cumbria. An online Low Carbon Food toolkit will be created to help the food sector to share experiences, learn more about the carbon footprint of food and how it can be reduced. The project will also help the public and communities to understand more about low-carbon food and inspire local action. It will link with the Grow Local Eat Local project and the Youth Climate Action Programme.

This project will explore a new model of food growing to increase plant-based food production in Cumbria, reduce food miles by working in partnership with local retailers, and offset carbon usage of local distribution through agro-forestry. One aim of this project is to help set up a cooperative bringing together farmers to grow fruit, vegetables and cereal crops to be enjoyed by local people, diversifying farm businesses and generating income. This project will be delivered by the Vista Veg cooperative, based in Eden.

Organisations and individuals across Cumbria will have the chance to learn about climate science and how we can act in our lives and workplaces to cut carbon emissions. Professional, accredited carbon literacy training will be available to a range of organisations including schools, as well as within communities. A network of community trainers will be set up and supported to cascade knowledge about science and solutions. This project will be run by CAfS.

Two communities will benefit from support to develop new community-energy projects that test out new community-owned models of generating, storing and sharing energy. The learning from this will be shared nationally. This project will be managed by a new Cumbria Sustainability Network coordinator.

Communities in these areas will benefit from a range of events and activities to raise awareness about climate change and to inspire local action. These could include setting up and running repair cafes, ‘free stalls’ passing on unwanted goods, art events, ‘Climate Conversations’. They’ll be run by new part-time community support officers, hosted in Barrow by Art Gene on behalf of Real Barrow, in Carlisle by Sustainable Carlisle, and in Eden by Penrith Action for Community Transition.

A central pot of funding will be available to overcome barriers to participation in the project. This will support costs of travel, crèches, translation, etc. Training will also be provided to all members on how to build a broad movement and engage with all groups. This aspect of the programme will be managed by a new Cumbria Sustainability Network coordinator.

This informal network brings together Cumbria’s small sustainability groups, offering them county-wide support, knowledge sharing and peer mentoring. These groups will be delivering events and training across the county as part of the programme, and they’ll receive support to access training, learning resources, signposting to funding, running events and to support the delivery of their local activities. They’ll also be supported to influence gatekeepers of emissions and wider partnership action. There will also be access to a new series of climate grants. This aspect of the programme will be delivered by CAfS.

There will be a major programme of events and training across the county to address the skills and knowledge gaps of partners and others, in order to overcome knowledge barriers to action. CAfS will coordinate this work.

Pulling it all together

A pioneering new framework will be developed for evaluating the carbon impact of the activities that happen during the programme. This will fit in with the monitoring of carbon reductions across the county. It will be delivered by Lake District National Park Authority, Small World Consulting and Climate Outreach UK. There will also be a wider evaluation of social impact, community influence and ‘human emergence’.

The programme is likely to uncover challenges and barriers to reducing carbon emissions, which could be within businesses, organisations like local authorities or communities. To help design solutions to these, the programme will include a budget for expert consultancy.

The programme will ensure that partners can be part of a movement of change nationally, through funding for them to share learning at national events on topics like climate change action and community empowerment.

An important part of the programme will be developing strong working relationships and networks among the organisations in the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership. Thanks to the programme, the partnership will be well coordinated and supported – from running meetings to setting the strategic direction for budget, activity, training and fundraising.

Working in a collaborative way with community influence, the partnership will develop a coordinated plan for emission-reduction activity needed across the county in order to achieve carbon neutral by 2037, ensuring that actions to reduce emissions are transformative and community led.

This will be done in a way that brings about permanent and transformative changes to the relationships between communities and decision makers, putting communities more in control.

Next steps

The programme will begin in January 2021.

There may be some recruitment beforehand for programme staff who’ll be needed at this early stage.

Please keep an eye on the CAfS website and social media for updates, including job opportunities. Sign up for our newsletter to be first to hear >

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