Fixing, re-using, recycling: the volunteer groups doing their bit for the environment and their communities

Oxfordshire is unique in the UK. It’s recognised for being innovative in science, tech and the knowledge economy. Its universities are prolific innovators, but there is another quiet revolution happening in our shire: in small shops, markets, allotments, gardens, community centres. It’s all about people getting together and taking action on the things they care about. What brings them together? A common passion and a strong community spirit.

We have over 60 Community Action Groups across the county, the largest network of its kind in the UK. Around 80, 000 residents got involved in community action last year. Many of the projects help us reduce waste and carbon emissions, re-use items and recycle more. These groups of volunteers offer and exchange skills and services that we all need when trying to improve our environment and communities.

Unique network that keeps on growing

Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for the Environment, Councillor Yvonne Constance, said “All these people are volunteering their time, energy and expertise for the good of the community and to increase sustainability. Oxfordshire County Council are very proud to support those who are coming up with creative ways to make Oxfordshire a better place to live.”

The project started in 2001 and the network just kept on growing. Now they organise over 2000 events per year with local people contributing 21,000 volunteer hours to the county. The Community Action Group Project offers support, advice and training to people setting up and running their activities and funding to get things off the ground. The CAG Project in Oxfordshire is currently funded by Oxfordshire County Council (£92,000 a year). The total financial output of the project is over £1.2 million which equates to an incredible 13:1 return on investment. The project also generated over £800,000 of income in grants, sales, donations and community-owned renewables.

Alice Hemming, Community Project Coordinator said: “Oxfordshire has such a strong network of community environmental groups due to the pioneering work of its citizens, and the leadership of the county council in supporting The CAG Project for many years. This has created a network that is unique in the UK, with thriving groups supported by shared resources (such as safety equipment, thermal imaging cameras, and apple presses) and staff mentoring, support and training.”

Thousands of events to choose from

In 2016/17, CAG Network activities led to 67 tonnes of waste being prevented and 52 tonnes of carbon emissions being avoided. Groups work in diverse areas such as carbon reduction, waste, transport, food, energy, biodiversity and social justice.

There are festivals like Tandem, food co-ops, community gardens, orchards and allotments, a farm-based programme for people with autism and learning disabilities, an eco-park, swap shops, as well as conservation and art groups. Through “Incredible Edible” initiatives people grow, cook and share healthy food locally. Food surplus cafes reduce waste by using surpluses that would have gone in the bin to make healthy nutritious meals using a pay as you wish system. SESI is a social enterprise which supplies organic, fair-trade and local food, as well as sustainable, locally made detergents which people can refill into their own container.

A recent example of the exciting work going on across Oxfordshire is Sustainable Didcot’s Repair Café. The first event last weekend was to match people who have broken household items with expert volunteers who love to fix things. Ed Polehampton from Sustainable Didcot explains, “We’ve been assembling a team of enthusiastic volunteers who have expertise in electrical items, computers, watches, clocks, and clothes and fabrics. We’ll also be able to glue broken things and sharpen tools. The volunteers are keen to share their knowledge, and we’re aiming for a relaxed social atmosphere with tea, coffee and cakes provided!”.

Similar “sustainable” groups exist in Blewbury, Kirtlington, Leafield, Wallingford, Wantage, Witney, Wheatley and Woodstock.

If there’s not already a Community Action Group in your area, you could be the spark that starts the action where you are. There are a whole range of ways to make a difference with your friends and neighbours. Some groups take action by working to prevent plastic pollution, others by insulating peoples’ homes or growing fruit and veg. You can see information on the existing Community Action Groups on our website. The CAG Oxfordshire Project is managed by independent environmental consultancy Resource Futures.

Check upcoming events here: http://cagoxfordshire.org.uk/events/