How you can join the local community in tackling the climate emergency

There are many things we can all do individually and within our own households to tackle the climate emergency, but there is also a great deal to be done collectively. Communities all around Merton are joining together to make meaningful difference locally in the face of this global threat. As part of our COP26 coverage, local 15-year-old student and environmental volunteer, Kamini Meech-Menon (pictured), has written about some of the ways you can get involved.

COP26 began on 31 October and finishes on 12 November. It is the UN’s 26th year of hosting these conferences to tackle climate change, and this time there is a sense of urgency. In our own homes we might already try to limit the electricity we use, the meat we eat and the miles we drive to reduce our carbon footprint. These actions are all very beneficial, but what more can we do to tackle climate change locally? There are a lot of groups and activities in Merton that you can take part in and work with people who are passionate about the climate too.

The council and the community have partnered together to set up Merton’s Climate Action Group. Two of the main areas the group works on are Greening Merton and Transport. The projects are run by volunteers, and they would love more people to get involved.

Merton Garden Streets is the Greening Merton team’s most successful project so far. It is a volunteer-led project that encourages people to plant up their front gardens, tree pits, a green roof on a bin shed, or even just a hanging basket. For my Duke of Edinburgh award, I helped on the group’s planting days and on admin behind the scenes. I feel a sense of proprietorial pride as I walk past the flowers I have planted on my street. The plants don’t just make the streets look more inviting; they also allow new micro-ecosystems to emerge which increase urban biodiversity. So far, nearly 100 streets in Merton have taken part in this project!

One of the Transport team’s projects was promoting World Car-Free Day events in Merton. World Car Free Day encourages people not to use their car for a day, transforming their streets to allow children to play and neighbours to get to know each other. On my street we have had three exciting street parties. The days consisted of a diverse range of homemade food, an extremely competitive street tug of war, a mini football match and a chaotic space hopper race. It felt surreal being able to play on the streets usually buzzing with cars – and amongst all this amusement, our street managed to go car free (and care-free!) for a day.

Many parks in Merton have “Friends of” groups which welcome anyone to volunteer regardless of their gardening experience. A few weekends ago, I helped plant crocus bulbs in Garfield Park. I came to the park with no knowledge on how to plant bulbs, but I soon got the hang of it thanks to the helpful volunteers. There are also other local groups that welcome volunteers to work on their projects all helping the environment in different ways. These include Little A.R.K which uses preloved fabrics to make essential items for those in need, Community Champions which redistributes unwanted clothes, food and books that would otherwise be wasted, and the Bike Project which repairs donated bikes and gives them to refugees. These are just a few of the groups that are working to reduce waste of all kinds in Merton. While the World’s leaders are meeting in Glasgow and making their own climate commitments, we can be doing the same within our local community in Merton. We have the power to change the environment of our local area for the better. And it’s a great time to start now.