Be part of the solution

It’s hard to explore new ideas and socialise – to discover how to lead lower carbon lifestyles and enjoy living sustainably – without a physical community space that can bring together the interests of people, places and prosperity. At the same time as we lack these spaces, there is sadly no shortage of boarded-up shops on many of our high streets.

Encouragingly, dozens of empty high street stores have already been taken over for use by local communities, as eco-centres.

These sustainability hubs are run by communities themselves and offer a range of activities that focus on both addressing the climate emergency and bringing people together. The offerings vary by hub and may include a zero-waste shop, co-working space for start-ups, repair café, swap shop, roof garden, library, event space and more.

The intelligent reuse of vacant infrastructure in our towns and cities is an exciting opportunity to revitalise often declining high streets with something other than retail shops. Vacancy rates are reduced where there is community ownership on a high street, according to charitable trust Power to Change. Typically, these community-owned spaces provide affordable, appropriate services and products for the community as they more nimbly meet shifting local demand than traditional high street occupants.

Camden was the first council in the UK to set up a Citizens’ Assembly on the climate and ecological emergency and the Think & Do community hub was set up in response. Today, Think & Do Camden is just one example of over 40 groups around the UK currently running or setting up a climate emergency centre, with each hub a reflection of their local community and what matters most to them.

Acquiring a space can happen through private developers too. Any tenant is better than no tenant at all, and commercial owners of vacant premises have the option to reduce their business rates payments by up to 100% through leasing the property for community benefit to a not-for-profit or charitable organisation, such as a climate emergency centre.

Is your area deprived of a community space? Could an alliance of groups and individuals in the local community build better solutions, relationships and resilience in the face of the climate emergency and multiple social crises?