A climate emergency centre for Taunton – tackling the climate and ecological crises together

The pilot pop-up

The charity Climate Action Taunton was founded in August 2021 to set up a climate emergency centre in the county town. This vibrant town centre hub will act as the focal point for sharing information and nurturing partnerships, to inspire and support action at individual and community level to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies.

The majority of people now recognize that global warming is impacting on the world and will affect every single one of us unless we do something about it. The challenge is so great that we cannot leave it to international agencies, governments or local authorities. We must work across political divides, viewing the threats the climate crisis poses as a shared problem which must be faced together, as a community.

The climate and ecological strategies published by the councils in Somerset acknowledge that public engagement plays a strong role in enabling them to reach net zero by 2030. In an analysis carried out by Climate Emergency UK in 2021 of local authorities’ plans to tackle climate change, Somerset West & Taunton Council’s climate and ecological action plan scored the highest marks (91 per cent). True to its strategy, the council is supportive of Climate Action Taunton’s work: it recently awarded the Charity £1,000 from its community fund to help it realise its aims.

The question the hub will address is how individuals can make a difference. In the great scale of things, what difference will I make if I walk instead of drive? How can I reduce the negative impact of heating my home? – I can barely pay my current bills, let alone afford solar panels or a heat pump. For many, regardless of age, political persuasion or class, climate change anxiety has taken the place of climate change denial.

At the hub we will host a wide range of accessible and welcoming events, installations and exhibitions, talks and workshops, to drive engagement in climate action and behaviour change. Our aim is to be trustworthy and non-judgemental, to share practical solutions and act across the generational divide. Topics covered will include ecology, carbon literacy, travel, the urban environment, consumerism, housing, energy, food and farming, and social justice. We will not be reinventing the wheel, but plan to work in partnership with other organisations, such as Taunton Area Cycling Campaign, Transition Town Taunton (a repair café) and The Eco Centre Somerset, to name but a few.

The concept of the hub is not unique. Climate emergency centres are up and running or being planned right across the UK. In the southwest, groups in Tiverton, Exeter, Bath, Totnes, Plymouth and Bristol are all working hard to achieve similar aims. The establishment of the Taunton hub took one step nearer to becoming a reality in February 2022, with the award of £10,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund. This was achieved on the back of a pilot pop-up hub we ran in November 2021 and of six community forums/listening events held during the course of the year. 

The pilot pop-up was sited in the former Top Shop premises in Taunton, right in the town centre, thanks to the generosity of Taunton Heritage Trust and Taunton Rotary. Despite what might seem initially to be a mismatch between the organisations involved, the venture was a big success: Rotary raised over £13,000 to support its charitable works and Climate Action Taunton talked to people from outside the ‘eco bubble’, gathered evidence of need and interest, and recruited new volunteers to the cause. The pilot demonstrated a successful model for bringing empty properties back into use, while supporting actions to mitigate the climate and ecological emergencies we are facing.

Climate Action Taunton is currently set up as a charitable community association. We are waiting for the outcome of our application to become a charitable incorporated organisation. Our next big objective is to find premises in the centre of Taunton that we can rent on a ‘meanwhile’ lease basis. As a charity, it will be eligible for business rate relief, so a partnership with a willing landlord will bring benefit to both parties. If any readers have connections in the commercial property field, we’d love to hear from you! We’re also very open to co-locating with one or more other charities. As our experience with the pop-up showed, both organisations benefited from the other’s footfall. Again, if you are a charity looking for a home, do get in touch.

Meanwhile we are continuing to plan our next activities. Ideas in the making include expanding the involvement of young people in the charity, delivering a programme of talks to societies and groups across our region, and nurturing an embryonic food & farming group that formed before Christmas. A particularly exciting connection, which was made thanks to the pilot pop-up, was with a group of care-leavers who are keen to develop ideas around fashion and clothing up-cycling. There is great mileage there for developing sewing skills, clothes swaps and garment re-purposing. 

If you would like to find out more about Climate Action Taunton and to volunteer your time and/or skills, please get in touch either via email (tauntoncec@gmail.com) Twitter: @ClimateActionSW or Facebook: Climate Action Taunton. We are totally volunteer-run and would greatly value your support.