From the coalface – Catrina Pickering from AfSL

Catrina Pickering, Development Worker, Action for Sustainable Living


What is your campaign trying to achieve?
Action for Sustainable Living or AfSL as it’s known helps people to live more sustainably by harnessing the power of individuals to become more active in their own communities. All of our work is rooted in the core values of holism, positive solutions, people-centred, local and lasting change.

Why did you get involved?
I’ve been working in the sustainability/ communities area for some years. I was thinking of moving to Manchester anyway as my partner was living here but when I read up about Action for Sustainable Living, I realised that this was a pretty special organisation. There are many sustainability organisations out there who do trainings and events but there are few that are able to go beyond this by getting their hands dirty and supporting long-term changes in peoples’ lives. This is AfSL in a nutshell.

What sustains you?
Mostly, I draw on my life-long Buddhist practice as well as a very enthusiastic inner child who comes out in my time off to play and relax me.However, there is one single life-changing event that springs to mind. A few years ago, when I was struggling under the weight of a lot of work in one my previous jobs in the Transition Towns movement, Ben Brangwyn, one of the founders turned to me and said “Cat, do you think it’s up to you to change the world?” He went on to talk about permaculture principles as applied to social movements. He explained that when you’re part of a movement, it’s never just up to you. Rather it’s up to you and everyone else that you’re working with. My job then in sustaining myself becomes to stay connected to the people around me, to lean on and to be leant on. I don’t have to know how to do everything so long as I can figure out who to ask and where to go for help (echos of Mcfly’s Ninja skillshare project here).

Since that day, I’ve always thought of what I’m trying to do on climate change in terms of “we” rather than “I” and I can honestly say life has not only been more productive but much more enjoyable and sustaining since then.

What was the last big success your campaign had?
When I moved to Manchester a few months ago, I was happily surprised to find that so many of the sustainability projects around Manchester that I got to know about had been seeded by AfSL. Didsbury Dinners, Moss Cider, the Fallowfield Secret Garden, Stitched Up! All of these projects can be traced to a Local Project Manager training.

Also, this year, we’ve been building up our Energy Academy project which works in housing associations to support residents on energy efficiency. Our Energy Doctor service in particular has really taken off. Energy Doctor is where one of our Energy Efficiency Tsars goes round by appointment to a residents house to talk through how they can make their homes more energy efficient. For me, it’s a particularly valuable project because so often energy efficiency campaigns focus on home owners, neglecting more vulnerable people who have less money to make changes and need help most. Many of the people we visit are elderly or have health problems and so really need to be warm in their homes. By addressing fuel poverty as well as energy efficiency, it becomes something that isn’t just about addressing climate change but also climate justice.

If people got involved in your group/campaign, what sorts of things would they end up doing?
There’s a whole range of things people can do depending on their interests and amount of available time:

  • Local Project Managers: We do free 3-4 day training in being a volunteer “Local Project Manager”. The training supports people to develop a project in their community around sustainability. The training covers the complete range of project management skills and we provide six months of mentoring or more to help get projects off the ground. Check out our projects page on our website – most of the projects there have been set up by our Local Project Managers. We’re currently recruiting for our next training on weekend of 1st-3rd March.
  • Businesses and organisations: If you work for a business or organisation, we can come along and do a (free in South Manchester, chargeable elsewhere) workshop for your organisation to help stimulate sustainability action among staff. Your org might end up doing anything from getting funding for cycle trailers to drive your goods around to setting up a rooftop garden above your offices. We’re looking for people to work with on this at the moment so if you think your org might benefit from this, get in touch and you can be our key liaison person…
  • E-Team: Sign up to our new E-Team and you’ll get an email every 2 weeks with one off volunteer opportunities in AfSL and beyond from helping out at AfSL’s xmas celebration to getting practical at a clear up day at the Secret Garden. You don’t have to sign up to do any of them of course but the offers are there every two weeks in your inbox. See:
  • Eco Collective of South Manchester (formerly South Manchester Environmental Forum): A networking event where you can come along and find out what’s going in South Manchester sustainability wise. Next one is eve of Thurs 21st Feb.
  • Office volunteers/ internships: We always welcome people to come and help out in the office and are particularly in need of people with admin and/ or design skills. In the New Year, we’ll be recruiting for a Communications Intern to put together a snazzy annual report and general publicity material.

Get in touch if any of this sounds of interest 🙂

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Stop runaway climate change of course. But in doing so, I wouldn’t want to simply wave a magic wand and have all the oil we’ve burnt suddenly jump into a deep carbon hole, never to be unlocked again. That to me would be treating the effect rather than the cause.

For me, what is just as important as stopping runaway climate change is the process by which it happens. This may well involve more privileged people taking responsibility for their own carbon emissions, wealthier countries and communities supporting the less wealthy to adapt and build resilience against climate change, a movement towards a more cooperative, equitable world and I expect a prioritising of Gross National Happiness well above Gross National Product. Now give us that magic wand 🙂

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?
Simply to believe in myself. Despite being really concerned with what was going on in the world from as early as I can remember, I didn’t get involved in social change until I was 22. I think like many others, I felt I had nothing to offer and that social change should be done by the capable. I’ve worked with a lot of people around mobilisation and I’ve seen the same lack of confidence in them. It makes me sad because what I also now see is that each and everyone of those people has so much to bring. So my advice to myself would be to believe in myself, jump in and “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”.

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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1 Response to From the coalface – Catrina Pickering from AfSL

  1. joskin69 says:

    I just joined up and I would like to ask where can I find out more about funding for cycle trailers for my business? I have just been sat doing a costing for my small painting and decorating business and it’s a bit out of my reach to get 4 bikes and trailers but that is sooooooo where we want to be.
    Loved the article.

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