Focus on a greener future

“Rather than waiting for governments, councils, businesses or anyone else to get on and sort out problems, it is very empowering to simply organise a small group of people and do stuff yourself.”

This is the advice from Liz Hayes (PGCE 11-18 (Citizenship) 2006) Founder of Transition Dover, a small local community group who are making Dover a greener, cleaner and more environmentally friendly place to be! 

Studies show roughly 60% of young people are ‘worried’ or ‘extremely worried’ about the effects of climate change (Bath University, 2021). Sometimes it can be overwhelming knowing how to make a difference, or where to start. In celebration of Green Careers Week here at CCCU, (6-10 Nov), where we shine a light on emerging technologies and careers that positively change the world, we spoke to alumnus Liz about how she is making a difference in her local community. 

Getting started

“I have always been environmentally aware, having been brought up in a family where we had a compost heap, recycled, wore second hand clothes, kept an allotment and so on. As a young adult I got involved with organisations such as Friends of the Earth, and volunteered with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.  

“In 2015 I decided to join the Green Party, and this put me in touch with other people in Dover who were also passionate about caring for our environment. I heard about the idea of ‘Transition Towns’ and read the book ‘The Power of Just Doing Stuff’ by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement. That was my lightbulb moment, when I decided that maybe this was ‘my thing’!  

I know ‘climate anxiety’ is a very real problem, especially for young people. Getting involved in practical tasks, such as a  litter pick, can help by seeing that you can make a real difference to your local environment. 

“I started ‘Transition Dover’ in late 2015, with a small group of like-minded volunteers. Our first activities were helping out at a community allotment and planting a wildflower border alongside a local supermarket. We then went on to apply for funds from our local council to pay for t-shirts and a banner, and started attending community events to share what we were doing. We organised film showings of environmental films, a visit to a waste processing site, linked up with local schools and nurseries to plant wildflower patches and ran an upcycling workshop to make reusable shopping bags.  

“Over the years we have seen volunteers come and go, but we’ve always had a core group of around 10 active volunteers and are keen to welcome new members. People can give as much or as little time as they like, and we are very flexible. Our projects tend to follow the interests and expertise of our volunteers, so we can follow new avenues if new volunteers turn up.”

Influencing impact

“We recognise the value of linking up with other organisations, so have worked closely with local groups such as Dover Big Local, Dover Smart project and Samphire. It makes sense to use existing networks and events rather than starting from scratch in organising your own. Since starting Transition Dover I have met so many new people in my community, and a big part of my role now is helping people link up with others, based on the connections I have established. Getting out there and attending community meetings and events is a vital part of this.  

One of our big successes is the Dover Repair Café – established in January 2018, following the international ‘Repair Café’ model.  We have a small team of volunteer fixers, who offer their skills to help repair electrical goods, clothing, bags etc.

 We had to take a break – like the rest of the world – during the Covid pandemic, but have successfully restarted and continue to help the people of Dover with their repairs. The monthly Repair Café event is a social, community event as much as a fixing service, with many people enjoying a chat over a cup of tea and slice of cake while they wait.  

What’s next

“We have just been awarded a small grant by Veolia to support our new monthly litter picks around Dover. We are hoping these events will attract new volunteers who are keen to help clear up the town, and we’d especially like to welcome some younger helpers. I know ‘climate anxiety’ is a very real problem, especially for young people. Getting involved in practical tasks, such as a  litter pick, can help by seeing that you can make a real difference to your local environment.

“If other people are interested in doing something similar, I would encourage them to follow the Transition ethos and ‘just do stuff’. This might be a litter pick, planting some wildflower seeds, a clothes swap with friends, or simply a coffee morning to swap ideas. In my experience, there are lots of other people out there who share your concerns and passions. All it takes is one person to step up and make start, and you will find others willing to join you.” 

Liz was nominated for a CCCU Alumni Community Hero Award 2023 earlier this year, in recognition of her voluntary work and the important impact she is having on the local area.