Let’s Get Engaged!

Peter-LefortAfter recycling the most and wasting the least per head in 2014, it can be hard to find new methods to spread the message in Oxfordshire, writes Resource Futures’  Peter Lefort, in the fourth in our series on the role of communications in resource management. CIWM Journal Online Exclusive

CAG Project Officer Peter Lefort (left) and CAG Project Manager Simon Kenton (right) with their OCVA Innovation Award

The County and District Councils carry out excellent campaigns focused on achieving the next goal and many residents respond accordingly, but for most, moving much beyond the low-hanging fruit of putting the right thing in the right bin is a challenge that no amount of local authority messaging is likely to address.

There is, however, another solution. Managed by Resource Futures, the Community Action Group (CAG) Project has been running in Oxfordshire since 2001, and has been fully-funded by Oxfordshire County Council since 2004. Over the last 11 years the award-winning Project has evolved into the largest network of grass-roots environmental groups in the UK, delivering over 1,000 events a year attended by more than 50,000 local people.

What community groups seem to have the power to do that local authorities do not is demonstrate the benefits of long-term waste reduction. Seeing it happen in your community normalises behaviour; makes it salient. Waste reduction ceases to become the action of the dutiful citizen and, instead, becomes the easy, economic and enjoyable choice for any member of a modern society.

How about starting with a simple swap shop? Last year, CAGs delivered over 70 – more than one a week. At these events over 30 tonnes of ‘stuff’ was given a new lease of life; saved from the bin by a grateful neighbour. The message here is not about preaching the waste hierarchy, but more a gentle prod towards behaviour change that considers the potential future uses of the things we no longer need. The cost saving to local consumers from these events alone amounted to over £165,000.

So what next? Time to tackle an issue that can account for a third of what we throw away: food waste. Instead of binning that banana, why not bring it along to a DinnerTime community kitchen and turn it into a delicious curry using ingredients from home or unwanted stock from local businesses? Then there’s Disco Soup, where you can help chop and cook vegetables in the city centre, to local music, and witness how over 800 people can be fed by a day’s worth of Oxford’s surplus food.

And why not bring your bike along to the Broken Spoke Bike Co-op, where staff and volunteers will help you fix your cycle yourself? Use those new skills at Bicester Green, the re-use centre where you can learn more and gain confidence in becoming a fixer-upper, not a chucker-outer.

All of these, and a further 50+ projects, are taking community-driven action on waste, energy, food and transport throughout Oxfordshire. By making waste reduction tangible and something that directly benefits the lives of the people who live there, community engagement represents our best change of communicating with citizens who might otherwise not be reached by more traditional means.

Find out more: www.cagoxfordshire.org.uk

Peter Lefort is a Community Action Group Project Officer at Resource Futures


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