Big Issue Vendor

Changemakers 2021: Climate crisis

The need to protect the planet has never been more urgent – but for these amazing Changemakers it’s also about improving lives and communities
Cycling UK's Big Bike Revival for Key Workers scheme has helped nearly 10,000 people

Going green the smart way can mean more jobs and opportunities as well as reversing the climate crisis.

As the crisis becomes ever more urgent, it’s Changemakers like these who are seizing the initiative and making a difference while there’s still time.

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96. Cycling UK

There was a cycling boom in 2020 – up 200 per cent in the UK during lockdown. Cycling UK encouraged the climate crisis-busting change by helping key workers commute by bike. The charity’s Big Bike Revival for Key Workers scheme supported 9,900 people across Scotland and England by providing them with free bike repairs, safety checks or loans. The Department of Transport and Transport Scotland fund Big Bike Revival. More than £1.1m of grants were awarded to bike shops, recycling centres and mechanics to help them provide free services.

Sophie Unwin of the environment Remade Network
Sophie and the Remade Network breathe new life into our old stuff

97-98. Sophie Unwin and the Remade Network

Remade Network brings together a network of social enterprises with the shared goal of creating jobs, addressing the climate crisis and reducing inequality through fixing things. The group is the brainchild of Sophie Unwin, who is focused on getting our old tech into the hands of refugees and others in need.

The Big Issue: When you think of what the Remade Network achieved last year, what makes you most proud?

Sophie Unwin: The way the team has grown and pulled together, our resilience through the pandemic, and the way that our computer distribution project has helped people study, work and feel connected to each other during a really challenging period. We have been distributing 500 quality second-hand computers to vulnerable people across the city, working in partnership with local groups.

Glasgow City Council awarded us a contract to dispose of these computers, and refurbishing them doesn’t just mean that communities benefit. It has also saved 117 tonnes of carbon dioxide – equivalent to emissions from 1,000 flights from Glasgow to Amsterdam.

What did you learn from your work last year?

I think we knew it already it but it has really reinforced to us the value of community. We work as a collective with three other grassroots organisations: Govanhill Baths Community Trust, Repair Cafe Glasgow and the Glasgow Tool Library, and sharing ideas, knowledge and resources from our work on the ground helped us all achieve so much more and adapt together.

The whole is really greater than the sum of its parts. We couldn’t do our work without the support of other groups – from the Somali Association to Freedom from Torture, who have helped us distribute the computers.

What work has been done during the pandemic?

Since opening in July our amazing technicians have carried out more than 300 repairs of household items – from radios to toys to jeans. We could see a real need for this neighbourhood service – and we’ve tried to keep prices as low as possible, normally just charging £5 or £10 for basic repairs so we can keep the service accessible for all.

The other need was for employment – and we’ve been able to create seven jobs in the last year. One of our technicians, Ross, was previously working as a sound and lighting engineer in the theatre industry – he’s been working with us to help us do electrical repairs.

99. Flora Blathwayt, Washed Up Cards

Flora Blathwayt began cleaning up plastic from the Thames and making it into greeting cards for friends and family. She has now turned the idea into a business, Washed Up Cards.

The Big Issue: Can you tell us how the pandemic changed your life?

Flora Blathwayt: Like for a lot of people, it was a really stressful and difficult year. Back in April, the idea that a pandemic was hitting was in itself new and very uncertain. I was feeling quite rudderless at home, I’d gone through a breakup and was living on my own. I was furloughed and suddenly didn’t have a working routine. It was just quite tough.

What drew you towards starting Washed Up Cards?

I went on a beach clean-up event before lockdown and the amount of microplastic I was finding really shocked me. My sister was getting married the following weekend and I remember stashing a few bits of plastic in my pocket because I wanted to try and use them on a card for her wedding. When lockdown hit, I reached out to all my neighbours with cards letting them know that they could call me if they needed anything. That was when I realised I could do more with the idea.

In what ways has working on Washed Up Cards been a positive experience?

I’m grateful not just for having this business off the ground but also the therapeutic benefit it’s given me. Beach cleaning is strangely meditative. You’re outdoors, near water, which is very soothing. The plastic I pick up is so nominal in the grand scheme of things, but it still feels like I’m doing something positive for the climate crisis and that’s better than nothing.

100. Mock COP26

When November’s 2020 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) was delayed, a group of youth climate activists organised Mock COP26 – a two-week event of speeches, panels and climate crisis workshops prioritising the voices of underrepresented communities and the Global South. Sonali, a coordinator from India, tells us more.

The Big Issue: What was the overall aim of Mock COP26?

Sonali: To ensure that world leaders take young people and the climate emergency seriously. COP25 was not ambitious enough and we need global leaders to treat the crisis like a crisis. COP26 is a platform to ignite meaningful political climate crisis action, so that we can ensure a healthy and sustainable planet for everyone. Mock COP26 showed world leaders and the global community what an ambitious yet realistic COP should look like.

Can you tell us a bit more about the conference itself?

It was a two-week online event with delegations from more than 140 countries. There were panels, speakers, group discussions and messages from youth activists around the world. In week two, delegates started voting on the policies that we would like world leaders to prioritise. At the end of the conference, Mock COP drafted their legal treaty, which will be passed to representatives at COP26 to ensure our words are taken into consideration. The event was a great success.

What can the public can do right now to limit carbon footprints?

Embrace a minimalistic lifestyle. Declutter your home and donate unneeded items to charity. Buy locally sourced, organic, plant-based, unprocessed foods from local farmers. Ultimately, the most important thing anyone can do is to educate themselves and then educate their community.

Read about the others who made the list of our top 100 Big Issue Changemakers here.