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The Big Issue Changemakers of 2024: Climate, environment and sustainability

We celebrate those making a difference in the ongoing climate crisis

Horatio's Garden, Salisbury District Hospital. Image: ©Horatio's Garden

The climate emergency is becoming ever more urgent, both on a global scale and closer to home. We’ve only one planet and these are the Changemakers, campaigners and organisations striving to protect it.

The Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT)

With no sign of the housing or climate crises abating in 2024, it’s going to take innovative ideas and swift work to tackle both. Carbon credits have the stain of being used to greenwash pollution but HACT’s Retrofit Credits project shifts the dial. The project quantifies efforts done to insulate and retrofit existing social housing and uses it to ethically sell carbon credits which are then used to turbocharge funding for more works. A pilot project funded retrofit works on 6,700 homes in six months. Antoine Pellet is HACT’s Head of Retrofit Credits.

What was 2023 like for you?

“2023 was a transformative year for me and for HACT in terms of the Retrofit Credits programme. We showed that the scheme is a success and the pilot was impactful for many organisations to assist with the decarbonisation of over 6,700 homes but, more importantly, to support the residents living in them. We are now working with housing providers and local authorities, as well as the private sector, so that they can benefit from Retrofit Credits and generate revenue to finance future retrofit works and help towards alleviating fuel poverty.”

Horatio’s Garden

Nominated by Dominic West (actor)

Stoke Mandeville. Image: Mark Lord

In 2010, 16-year-old Horatio Chapple volunteered in a spinal unit during his school holidays and realised there was nowhere for people recovering from surgery to go. He came up with the idea to create gardens for people to recuperate in, and the idea was unanimously welcomed by patients. Tragically, Chapple was killed by a polar bear on an expedition a year later before the idea got off the ground, so his parents set up the charity Horatio’s Garden in his name. Today there are gardens across many of the UK’s most outstanding spinal injury centres, each designed by a different leading landscape designer. West said: “They’re just about to start one in my home city of Sheffield, and its design won a prize at the Chelsea Flower Show.”

Find the rest of the Changemakers series on the links below and pick up the magazine from your local Big Issue vendor

Centric Lab

Centric Lab is a research laboratory that uses neuroscience, ecological research, social justice principles and geospatial data to understand how the places we live in impact our health. They have worked with groups such as Breathe London Community Programme to visualise air pollution data. They run programmes to promote ecological health and peer-to-peer learning to create life-sustaining neighbourhoods. Their nominator wrote: “They claim their work is not groundbreaking nor are they leaders. I beg to differ, having worked with the guys as part of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Pathfinders programme. Their work is spectacular and they certainly led me to think differently about our world and how we might bring more light to it.”

Design Nature

Design Nature workshop. Image: Dal Singh

Design Nature CIC is a Reading-based Social Enterprise which empowers young people, educators and organisations to imagine and create a sustainable planet. They have worked with thousands of young people through projects and programmes that combine design-led and action-based creativity. Their nominator wrote: “Design Nature’s work is highly relevant in modern-day Britain, where the pressing climate and biodiversity crisis calls for innovative solutions. In a world where young people face the impacts of the climate crisis, the organisation’s focus on empowering them to design positive futures aligns with the demands of sustainable business practice, making their work crucial for the challenges of contemporary Britain.”

Retrofit Balsall Health

Since 2022, Retrofit Balsall Health has installed solar panels, insulation and other measures to make homes in Birmingham more energy efficient. The grassroots, people-powered scheme is led by John Christophers and his wife Jo Hindley, and they have signed up more than 1,400 households to have the work done, completing around 650 homes so far. All retrofitting is done free of charge. The team – working alongside Birmingham City Council – tapped into £6.5 million local authority government funding to take the financial burden off households. By replacing windows and doors and providing better insulation and ventilation, Retrofit Balsall Health has warmed the homes of residents in Birmingham in an environmentally friendly, cost-free way. 

Money Movers

Money Movers is a grassroots network helping women move their money away from climate-wrecking financiers. Collectively, they have already moved £2.2 million to greener providers. They want women to divest their money from companies that support fossil fuels, exploitation of women and girls and weapons. Money Makers aim to help participants develop their financial confidence and to better understand the impact their finances have on the planet. Money Movers aims to reach 30,000 women and move £1 billion by 2030.

Dext Heat Recovery

Since 2009, Dext Heat Recovery has been developing the DexThermic, a device that collects, filters and stores excess radiant heat from a chargrill in a kitchen to be used elsewhere, making restaurants more energy efficient. Nando’s trialled the system in their Didsbury branch in Manchester, and it has now been rolled out into 14 of their restaurants. Dext Heat Recovery has made it its mission to help the government and brands transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future, with the hopes of achieving carbon net zero by 2040. 

Ahista Stories

Image: Gabriel Rahman

Zainab Mahmood’s fashion brand Ahista Stories celebrates South Asian clothing in a sustainable, slow way, and she seeks to educate her shoppers through informative content creation on climate justice. In 2023, Ahista Stories, in collaboration with Sustainably Muslim and Two Billion Strong, ran London’s first South Asian sustainable fashion festival. Mahmood also runs storytelling events, upcycling workshops and interfaith panels alongside her business, to platform and celebrate her community and heritage. Her nominator wrote: “In modern Britain, Ahista Stories pioneers slow, sustainable fashion, aligning with a contemporary movement towards eco-conscious choices. The brand signifies a shift towards anti-colonial fashion, resonating with diverse voices and contributing to a more conscious and inclusive fashion landscape.”

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Ealing Wildlife Group

The London Borough of Ealing is home to the Ealing Wildlife Group (EWG) – which works alongside the community to protect local wildlife through education, conservation and collaboration. EWG focus on preserving natural spaces, relying on citizen science, volunteers, local experts and amateur naturalists who collect and submit data on the biodiversity of species across the borough. In October the group reintroduced beavers into Paradise Fields, whose dams will improve water quality downstream and create natural wetlands upstream. They are also in the process of converting the disused allotment site at Costons Lane into a nature reserve and education centre, to teach future generations about conserving and protecting the environment. 

Energy Garden

Energy Garden supports people to improve biodiversity, build solar projects and grow food around transport infrastructure. Since 2011 they have helped 127 community groups lead the transition towards a more sustainable London by creating green spaces. Their work has been recognised by TFL, who reported that stations with Energy Gardens have the highest customer service scores. Energy Garden negotiates legal permissions of transport partners, funds staff, runs education programmes and buys materials to buildgreen spaces. Their nominator said: “The Energy Garden Community Benefit Society has 500 members who have raised more than £1m for solar development so far. Revenues from the sale of energy go to fund gardens and education programmes in London.”

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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