Powerful People, Powerful Places

Tara Paterson

Mobilising the yet to be mobilised

Our local environment is the foundation on which community life is built.  Parks provide space for local people to come together and meet their neighbours, and clean streets embed a pride in one’s place. Community energy projects imbue neighbourhoods with a sense of self-sufficiency and economic resilience while allowing residents to take charge and work together.

As we saw in this year’s local and general elections, environmental issues like energy and air quality are finally becoming campaign priorities. People in British cities are angry about pollution. Many lament the decaying state of our parks. And many more believe that community ties are loosening. The need to ensure that local people have the power to improve their environments and reinvigorate their communities is perhaps therefore more urgent than ever.

To do this councils and community organisations need to reach out. In the past many took steps to answer the demands of Tony Blair’s New Localism agenda and David Cameron’s Big Society for more ‘community empowerment’ and ‘citizen engagement.’ Too often, however, the environmental participation opportunities that councils have adopted are still only taken up by the ‘usual suspects’—groups of socially active, time-rich individuals well-versed in the language and practice of environmental politics.

Rather than leaving participation solely to them, councils and community groups should make a concerted effort to engage what this report calls the ‘yet to be mobilised.’ These are residents who are environmentally aware but not environmentally active. By and large, they are interested in doing more to improve the environment, if they’re asked, but they lack the support and resources to get active.

Fabian Society polling indicates that the yet to be mobilised may make up nearly a third of the population1 – far more than the portion currently engaged in environmental action. Crucially, they are the gateway to widespread participation. Securing the involvement of the yet to be mobilised is the first step to building a participatory culture where neighbourhood engagement is commonplace amongst many community members, including eventually those who are disconnected and hard to reach.