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Empowering local action on climate change – Brent’s Together Towards Zero Community Grant

The London Borough of Brent launched a community climate action grant to empower residents to take the lead on tackling the climate emergency.

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The London Borough of Brent launched a community climate action grant to empower residents to take the lead on tackling the climate emergency. The scheme has now been up and running for two years and has successfully funded a total of 71 projects ranging from community growing spaces and biodiversity awareness sessions to vegan cookery courses and ‘upcycling’ fashion shows. We know that Brent residents are motivated to help prevent climate change and our “Together Towards Zero” community grant is one of the ways that the local authority can empower people from all backgrounds to come forward and get involved.

The challenge

How do we bring our communities with us on the journey towards net zero? This was one of the questions to emerge shortly after the London Borough of Brent declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 and remains one of the key questions for councils around the country. Whilst major international events like the Conference of the Parties (COP) and national policies tend to dominate the media headlines, these can often feel remote to communities who want to create change in their daily lives. 

Like many other local authorities, we are acutely aware of the scale of transformation needed in order to meet our emission reduction targets over the next decade. Given that we are operating at a time where council capacity and resources are limited, it was clear from the outset that we will only be successful if we are able to work collaboratively and build greater local capacity with our residents and communities every step of the way. This means bringing climate action closer to people and encouraging everyone to get involved in a way that is meaningful to them.

So how to go about doing this? And how to ensure that all our communities are able to access the support needed to participate in climate action? 

Brent is the second most culturally diverse borough in the UK, and our long history of ethnic and cultural diversity is something that we are incredibly proud of. It also means that designing programmes to be inclusive for all people who live and work in Brent is of paramount importance.   

Throughout the process of consulting with residents on the Brent Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy, it became clear that one of the biggest barriers to involvement in local climate action for residents was financial. Many individuals had great ideas and enthusiasm for projects they could lead and run in their local area but lacked the seed money to launch them.

The solution

In response to this feedback, Brent launched its Together Towards Zero Community Climate Action Grant at the end of 2021.

Applications are welcomed from individual residents (with the support of their community), constituted groups, resident associations, faith groups, social enterprises, and local businesses (for schemes which benefit the community). 

To be successfully awarded funding, projects must demonstrate that they either make Brent’s local environment greener and more biodiverse; or offer an opportunity for a tangible carbon saving in a community setting. Alleviating barriers to accessing climate action finance is an explicit aim of the grant, and so we made sure the application process was kept as simple as possible and that applicants were able to receive their payment up front, not in arrears. We also decided to be agile in our assessment of the applications, allowing people to explain why their project would have a particular beneficial impact in their bespoke community setting.

Volunteers gardening in the edible community garden at Roundwood Lodge

The impact

Following the launch of the fund in 2021, we were delighted to see the range of projects and initiatives that were being put forward by our residents and communities. We received applications for the creation of small green spaces, biodiversity-enhancing projects, education programmes, food growing schemes, energy efficiency projects, waste reduction initiatives and more. One project even worked with schools to deliver dance sessions that used creative means to educate young people about the consequences of not looking after our environment whilst teaching constructive ways of recycling, reusing, and reducing waste. We want the grant to fund activities that reflect the bespoke needs of individual communities and encourage applicants to think as creatively and innovatively as possible.

How is the new approach being sustained?

We relaunched for a second round of the fund in November 2022. Based on feedback, we increased the grant amount available from £1,000 to £5,000 per application to enable the funded projects to do more and have a real impact for communities. Residents also said that they would be more likely to take the time to develop high quality projects and submit an application when they had the opportunity to bid for up to £5,000 of financial support. In this round, we were really looking for projects that would have a legacy impact; initiatives that reach out into the community, encouraging participation from as broad an audience as possible and bringing new voices into the climate conversation. To help inspire our communities, we published a Brent Together Towards Zero Showcase Book highlighting 13 examples of previously funded projects undertaken by local residents helping to tackle climate change. We are hoping to use internal resources to continue the scheme for future rounds.

A local beekeeper giving a talk on the importance of biodiversity at Olive Road's eco-themed street party hosted by local residents

Lessons learned

A key takeaway from the scheme is the importance of setting up the mechanics of the grant so that it is compliant with internal governance, but still breaks down administrative barriers and works for the community. Our residents told us that perceptions of councils are often slow and bureaucratic, and so it is important to address this when setting up a community grant scheme for climate. 

A second takeaway has been the importance of being able to demonstrate the impact of the projects. This helps both in securing further finance to run future rounds of the grant, and also in promoting the grant opportunity to new groups and inspiring them to get involved with community climate action. 


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Further resources

Brent Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy

Brent Together Towards Zero Showcase Book