Sunday 13 November 2011

Helping Your Community Out First

Today's Outreach slot in our Transition Themes Week is cross-posted from the Transition Network's Social Reporting Project where TN blogger, Kerry Lane, reports from her new home initiative in Glasgow. This entry was originally part of our Diversity and Social Justice Week.

When you are struggling to engage people it is tempting to just label them as selfish and apathetic (NB. Slightly sore point as no-one turned up to my screening of Just Do It tonight). But Catrina's thought provoking blog and my experiences earlier this week have reminded me of why valuing diversity and not just writing off the 'unengaged' is so key to creating a better society.

A wee look from the other direction

This week I completed my first Home Energy Audits, an integral part of one of our projects where we go to peoples homes and do both a structural and behavioural survey to try and help them save energy at home. We also lend them an OWL energy monitor so that they can visualise their energy use.

It is lovely to be able to help people out and give them advice if they don't understand how their boiler works or which energy tariff they are on. But I was left wishing that there was more that I could do for this lassie living in a Housing Association flat with her wee boy. The building was as structurally heat retentive as a sieve and the heating system was highly inefficient and very expensive. As much as we tried to give advice on behaviour change and possible DIY options, all of us knew that really unless the housing association took moral responsibility for providing more energy efficient housing for its tenants, not much could change. Of course if any changes were to be made, these would inevitably be passed on to the tenants as an increase in rent anyway.

This experience made me understand, in a way I never truly had before, why a lot of people at the university do not feel like putting lots of time and effort into environmental projects. When plain survival and protecting your family are such priorities is it any wonder that there is little energy left for making awkward lifestyle changes with no obvious personal benefits? It is not that people are not sympathetic to environmental issues or that they are essentially selfish, they honestly do not have the luxury of being able to care.

Example two

My lack of audience tonight illustrates this beautifully. I could just throw my hands in the air, despair at a world full of people who do not care and cannot be bothered and give up.

Now as it is my job giving up isn't really an option, but besides this I am choosing to take a different view. Many students actually live a fair way from the university, they have children, jobs and other commitments. They come on to campus for their lectures and then go home. They don't even like to have gaps in between lectures where they have to hang around campus. Now most students would think of this as a great opportunity to go and work in the library and IT labs, but they would rather be at home with their wee ones or ready to go straight away if they get a call from work (perfectly reasonable). All of these pressures on time mean that even though they would love to be able to do extracurricular activities, they are bottom of a very big pile of priorities.

One of the politics lecturers had come to lead a discussion after the film, so we had a chat and we are going to try and put on another showing, but this time we are going to look at all of the politics timetables and find a likely gap, at least straight after the last lecture, but ideally in between them. This way students do not have to hang around on campus for 4 hours and it will be a more integral part of their course rather than something separate. As after all it should be a very useful case study.

I have found when talking to people that they do care, they just do not have the time or energy to make an effort. So it is about trying to help them out and make it as easy for them as possible.

Shrinking the gap

On the train home I was chatting with one of my colleagues about how so many of the measures put in place to alleviate poverty by government and other institutions, just end up benefiting those who are better off. Those who have to live in inefficient rented accommodation cannot take advantage of government insulation grants, they cannot afford to choose the cheapest deals, such as paying by direct debit. Instead they end up on pre-payment meters, paying the most for their electricity of all of us. A horrendous exploitation of those with no other choice.

Those who go back to education to try and get themselves a better job do not have the luxury of being able to study properly because they have so many other responsibilities and worries to juggle at the same time.

A society that allows this to happen, that lets so many people slip through the net can never be resilient. And while people are still trapped in these situations by society they are never going to embrace the transition message because they do not have the ability or the energy to change.

Although in some ways it is fairly obvious, it is important to reiterate that unless we address social injustice as part of Transition we have little hope of being sustainable in areas where it manifests itself. For this (and other) reasons I fully support the addition of equality into the Transition Initiatives statement.

Before we can expect low income communities to embrace Transition, we first have to help them into a situation where they can. Kerry Lane

Photos: A leaky house, Just Do It poster, Social justice

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