Hay Community Assemblies

Business, Community • Powys

Community assemblies are part of a new, participatory model in Hay-on-Wye to make better decisions locally and build greater community resilience in the face of climate change.

Our story

As part of a ‘community engagement programme’, Hay Public Library.org (a CIC originally set up to save Hay Library from closing down) launched its first-ever community assembly in January 2024. The first of several community assemblies, it is intended to act as a mini parliament for ongoing decision making and collective action in response to climate breakdown.

In contrast to outdated royal commissions that have taken a lot of time to achieve surprisingly little in the past, local community assemblies are much better placed to answer complex questions that require consensus and buy-in from everyone to deliver real change.

Our first assembly addressed the food question: “How might we support Hay-on-Wye, as a community, to become as self-sufficient as possible in sustainably grown local food within 10 years? Eventually producing enough to feed the town and its environs, much as we did in the 1950s and 60s?” The implication of the question, and of our task as a community, is that we are going to become self-sufficient; the question is how are we going to get there?

The event was massively oversubscribed with a  long waiting list. We had 80 participants but over 200 people could have attended, which indicates the level of local interest. Fortunately, the Food Assembly will be ongoing with many further opportunities for people to get involved.

We spent an inordinate amount of time designing our first leaflet to invite people to the Food Assembly: the look, the colour, the words, the sentences, the messaging, the brand. Our diligence paid off as the uptake of leaflets exceeded our expectations and we ended up booking a second drop of leaflets to meet demand. We had also planned an online campaign, which we did not need as we exceeded capacity for the assembly with the leaflets alone.

Our Food Assemblies are one part of a bigger ‘resilience initiative’ with different themed assemblies to follow. The ambition is three-fold: to self-organise Hay to become self-sufficient in locally, regeneratively grown food (Hay Food CSA); to become self-sufficient in community-owned renewable energy (Hay Energy); and to tackle mental health issues that are a consequence of climate breakdown (Hay Wellness). Together, we are working to create a more resilient local community where we look after each other and live within our means.

Our advice

Decide on the specific wording of the question for a community assembly. This is a KEY decision. Personally, I took a punt and decided that we did not want climate deniers in the room. Neither did we want to have a discussion about whether or not we should become self-sufficient in Food (or Energy for that matter). So the question was not about an objective (the ‘what’), but rather how to achieve the objective we pre-decided (the ‘how’).

Plan ahead and prepare thoroughly so your community assembly can be successful. We had 109 people in the room: 80 participants plus another 29 helpers and organisers. Of those assembly staff team members, we had 10 facilitators and 10 note takers (one of each for each table); people dealing with ticketing and greeting; a floor manager, photographer, filmmaker, PA person; three IT people who turned up early to sort out computer glitches, sound balance and the projector. And of course myself!

Think carefully about the best way to invite people to join an assembly. The reason we went for leaflet drops was because we have a higher proportion of elderly people in our catchment, many of whom do not operate online, and we want these people represented. We also had leaflets displayed in about 20 of our shop front windows. In terms of message, we felt that if we focused on climate change and carbon targets, we would most likely turn people off. Instead, we followed the evidence of a survey of 60,000 participants worldwide (designed to ascertain the best way to engage people in the climate issue to take action) and appealed to people's love of their family, their innate love of nature and the unconscious desire inside each of us to try and leave the world in a better place.

Balance the representation at the assembly. To ensure we had other essential representation, we chose to include direct invitations to specific groups locally: farmers, growers, landowners, representatives and users of our food bank, our zero-waste service, food agencies and Hay businesses. Of the 80 tickets released, about 25 went to these groupings. The rest were self-selected members of the public, representing households. (We also spread out the group of farmers across the different tables so more people would benefit from their expertise.)

Seek training support to run community assemblies. We also used the support we were given by Community At Work, one of the world's leading facilitation consultancies and training groups. They publish the facilitator’s bible: Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making – and the founder of the company, Sam Kaner, very kindly gave me a place gratis on one of their training programs as their contribution to getting this model off the ground. Two other support organisations to consider are Humanity Project and Trust The People.

Celebrate the process as much as the results. You can look at problems like the climate crisis or cost of living at an individual level, but it misses the point – the problem is with our current form of governance and top-down decision making. By giving people a real voice and agency, we can shape our society into one that serves the needs of all. Although you may not agree with everything that comes out of your community assembly, the community building that happens through this process is in itself a KEY factor in building resilience.

Our metrics

Number of community assembly participants. Feedback from participants. Community ownership of the decisions taken and resulting actions needed. Broader measures that the process is 'building resilience’ in terms of a greater sense of hope, purpose and belonging.

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Response to climate crisis

Mitigation & Adaptation




Business, Community, less than 9 people

Shared by

Mike Eccles

Updated Apr, 2024

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