In this blog post, Alex Cameron-Smith, Climate Resilience Manager at Sniffer, reflects on recent community events we attended and organised, with insights into how engagement processes can be improved by a commitment to creating safer and accessible spaces for all.

Discussions at the “Creating Climate Resilient Communities” event © Tiu Makkonen/Sniffer

“Community engagement” is a term that is used a lot, and is usually now required as part of any project that affects a place and the people who live there. Types of engagement can fall anywhere on a scale ranging from just telling people what is going to happen all the way to getting communities to work with others to create something together, like a vision for the neighbourhood.

Increasingly, through our work at Sniffer we are seeing that communities are not satisfied with just being informed about something – more and more people are telling us that they want to be actively involved in decision-making. The phrase “nothing about us, without us”, originating in disability rights activism is becoming more widespread, especially in other minority and marginalised groups.

Building trust with communities requires repetitive outreach, transparent communication, proper resourcing and making things like language and meeting places accessible. It is a priority for us to integrate all of these across everything we work on, from local projects like Creative Climate Futures in Glasgow and Climate Ready Localities to our regional work with the Highlands and Islands and Climate Ready Clyde.

Recently, we spoke at a climate and nature themed event run by the South Lanarkshire Community Planning Partnership. The day was a mixture of presentations and “Conversation Cafes”, where people from public services, community organisations, young people, school students and local Council staff sat round tables to discuss climate and nature challenges, and how local priorities and action could help address these. It was great to see such a diversity of voices, experiences and knowledge thinking, talking and exploring together.

Any organisation that wants to do more effective place-based work should be making connections across all their programmes. At Sniffer we are doing this so we can learn what is working and what needs improvement, and we think it is key to bring together groups from different sectors so people who wouldn’t usually meet each other will have more space to share knowledge and connect.

Using the Community Climate Adaptation Routemap at the “Creating Climate Resilient Communities” event in small groups © Tiu Makkonen/Sniffer

In mid-November, we brought the Climate Ready Clyde and Adaptation Scotland programmes together to put on an in-person event called “Creating Climate Resilient Communities” at Netherton Community Centre. It may have been easier to hire out a corporate space in central Glasgow, but at a time when many community facilities are being closed, we wanted to show a vote of support for the continued operation of these places in the heart of where people actually live.

Attending the event was a mixture of third sector organisations, community members, academics and local authorities from the Glasgow City Region. Everyone was seated with facilitators from Sniffer around tables with five themes, taken from our Community Climate Adaptation Routemap: regenerating nature, improving housing and neighbourhoods, growing skills and employment, getting around and becoming self-sufficient.

We started by introducing Climate Ready Clyde, then how we expect the future climate will impact Glasgow, and how important it is to gather local lived experience of climate change. In smaller groups we had a go at creating Adaptation Personas, before hearing from Generations Working Together, West Dunbartonshire Libraries, and GALLANT about their work. In the afternoon we actively introduced the Routemap and again in groups we explored possible actions under our theme and how these could address both climate and social issues. We finished the day with artist Eddy Phillips talking through the event graphic they created, gathered some reflections from the room, and encouraged everyone to take some extra sandwiches home!

The event graphic © Eddy Phillips / Sniffer

Designing events like these can be challenging, as we had a much broader aim than connecting with a particular community, but we focused on exploring approaches to community engagement, participation and lived experience whilst also giving people time to think and discuss things with each other in open and collaborative sessions. Doing it in this way, we found that we got a lot of positive feedback and everyone who participated seemed to take away something useful for them - new contacts, more knowledge, a personal action or just food for thought.

As we integrate climate justice into everything we do at Sniffer, we will continue to try and create more safe, accessible spaces where people can speak freely and are heard on the things that matter to them. We believe this approach will build a foundation of trust, leading to more local empowerment and driving the transformational change that is needed to create flourishing communities and a fairer future for all.

Feedback from a participant of “Creating Climate Resilient Communities” © Alex Cameron-Smith/Sniffer

Resources and contacts

·       If you’d like to download the slides and the high-resolution graphic, click here

·       For all the Adaptation Scotland programme community resources, click here

·       Find out about Creative Climate Futures, our new community-led project in Glasgow, here.

·       If you have any questions about our community engagement or would like to work with us, contact [email protected].

·       For more general information about our work, please contact [email protected].