04 June 2022

Citizens assembly for sustainability

One day I received a letter. It announced that there was an initiative to create a Community Assembly in Dyffryn Ogwen. Its goal was to explore how the valley could be made more sustainable. And I was feeling a lot of community spirit that day! I decided to volunteer for it. I mean, I really would like this valley to be very sustainable. And maybe I have some good ideas, based for instance on my side gig. And then nothing happened for a while.

During the visit by my sister, I received a phone call from a number I didn't recognise. I did answer it but was a bit suspicious; who was phoning me? Was this a spam call? But it turned out to be from the bloke who was organising this assembly. He told me I had been picked as one of the 50 members! When she heard this (he was speaking English at the time) my sister was absolutely certain it was a spam call. Congratulations; you have been chosen! But it was serious.

Then the day came the assembly would actually take place. I wasn't sure what to expect. I biked to the rugby club where the events would take place; this is really close by. I was welcomed, ticked off a list, and given a sticker with the number 4 on it. I was asked to add my name to it. I saw what they had done there; we were organised in groups! So I found table number 4 and sat down. And I met my fellow assembly members. They were very friendly! But that was to be expected; if you do not want to try to be constructive with your fellow citizens, you don't volunteer for something like this.

I also got me a coffee. That is important! And after a while the event officially started. I had seen the programme, but will still not entirely sure what the practical execution would be of the various programme points. What would "community action" really entail? (Or rather, "Gweithredu cymunedol" as it was a Welsh language meeting, with simultaneous translation provided for those who needed it.) But we unsurprisingly first started introducing ourselves. And soon afterwards, we were given some pieces of paper with a phrase on it related to the assembly, and we were asked to write down what our thoughts were upon seeing said phrase. It was that kind of meeting. And soon also the flipcharts came out; a lot more writing down of thoughts we had. We were thinking about what experiences with climate change we had, what initiatives in the valley we were aware of, what initiatives outside the valley we knew about, what we would like to do in the next meeting, and things like that.

We were not only writing things on pieces of paper; there were also presentations from officials. One was a man from the School of Natural Sciences at the University who gave us some insight into how much more CO2 we could still emit if we wanted to stick below various climate thresholds, and how quickly we will do that if we didn't change emission rates. The answer inevitably was: not much! And soon! There also were two people from the Ogwen Partnership who spoke about the things they already do and the things they wish to do in the future.

The things I thought were most useful were the initiatives people know about; there was so much more than I was aware of! We seem to have a man who converts "normal" bicycles into e-bikes, and schemes where you can borrow reusable nappies and menstrual products. And courses in growing your own food. Such good ideas! And there were other people who were not aware of lots of other initiatives. There is a lot going on here in our modest valley!

The ideas for the next time were manifold; people wanted information about making your house more energy-efficient, wanted local politicians and local businesses to show up to see what interactions we could have with them, and more things like that.

It wasn't all hard work; we also had breaks, and I recognised a few people. There was a lady from Welsh class there (of course there was!) and Caro was there too. And I met some new people during lunch. And I got a lot of usual response I get when I meet new people from the area: "I've seen you running!"

Altogether I think it was a useful day. I can't say we have changed the world, but I absolutely believe in the merit of getting a lot of well-meaning people together who might be aware of how little difference they can make on their own. If we get together, we can do a lot more! And if we can join forces and make a small difference, then maybe we are part of a bigger movement where in every valley or other geographical demarcation there is an assembly like this, with people trying to make a difference together. What we need is a change in mentality and political will. And any step in the right direction is one!

The next meeting will be in August. I will be looking forward to that one more than I did this one, as now I have a clearer idea of what to expect!

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