Sustainable Hackney – some reflections on the pandemic

In this blog, we offer the personal reflections of people closely involved in Sustainable Hackney, on how the pandemic has affected them personally, and the wider Hackney community.

We’ve joined #BuildBackBetter

‘We can emerge from this crisis a stronger, fairer, greener country.’

Sustainable Hackney has also affiliated to the #BuildBackBetter (BBB) campaign because it aligns closely with our values. BBB believes that, ‘We can emerge from this crisis a stronger, fairer, greener country.’ BBB is calling on MPs to ‘learn the lessons of the pandemic. Not just that the NHS and social care were dangerously under-resourced. Deep inequalities our society have been revealed. Our key workers - many of them women, and many not born in this country - are among the least valued and lowest-paid.’

#BuildBackBetter is creating a collaborative campaign to ensure that the response to this crisis meets the needs of people and communities, invests properly in public and health services, and rebuilds our economy to be resilient against future shocks. This includes properly valuing workers and rapidly decarbonising the economy. 


Clare Taylor

‘I treasured the resurgence of nature in the borough’

I learned just how much can be achieved when communities come together - the teams of volunteers helping look after the housebound, groups making scrubs for health workers – and hope that continues too. That kind of energy could make all the difference for fighting climate change. I, along with so many others, treasured the resurgence of nature in our borough, the clean air that I could breathe in deeply without it hurting my lungs, the clear skies and the sounds of birdsong instead of just traffic.


 Merle White

‘Education for Sustainability has promoted a coherent approach to developing a broad set of skills, understanding and knowledge for an ever changing and uncertain ‘new normal’ world.’

Our lives in the last months have been thrown into uncertainty and change, directed by politicians as to when, where and how we should conduct our daily lives. Anxiety and stress for our health and prospects have infiltrated our homes. Our public and social media have been flooded with facts, misinformation, conspiracy and contradictory theories. Many have been able to use the ever-evolving application technologies as distractions.

Our health, our ability to earn, even our life style is at the mercy of random decision making and our democratic voice has been removed – for the time being anyway. We can now acknowledge that uncertainty and change is our personal, national and global future. That observation has been understood and promoted by forward looking pedagogic theories.

The learning in schools that stopped so abruptly in March 2020 had been focused on a success criteria, based on cramming, conformity and assessment. Our children’s educational horizons were limited to current needs and expectations. Our schooling system was full of methods of retaining and relinquishing information, harking back to eras where facts were fewer and more certain.

Forward-looking pedagogies have long highlighted the need to equip us all through school, higher education and lifelong learning. Education for Sustainability has promoted a coherent approach to developing a broad set of skills, understanding and knowledge for an ever changing and uncertain ‘new normal’ world.

Information and facts can no longer be the sole basis of our educations system as we move forward, and the first cautious entrees arrive at the gates of our strangely changed schools. The curriculum will be more relaxed for some time and perhaps we could take this opportunity to build back a better curriculum that relies on the skills for the changing and uncertain future lives of our pupils. Building awareness of our interdependence within a global-political and environmental-ecological world. Enhancing resilience though promoting understanding of personal and social wellbeing.

This could be the time that we all, and educators in particular, work on ways to put the skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity as the heart of the methods and delivery of our education system, to confront our uncertain and ever-changing future.

Jan Kuiper

‘A revival of community spirit probably not seen since the Second World War’.

One of the benefits that lockdown has given us is more time to reflect and read. My wife and I are aged 72 and 70 respectively, and therefore categorised as vulnerable. We had to be less adventurous than Dominic Cummings and his family! We have benefited, however, from a revival of community spirit probably not seen since the Second World War. Thanks to our street’s WhatsApp group and Stoke Newington Mutual Aid Group (part of a 4000 strong Hackney Mutual Aid force), our weekly shopping needs were met, until recently when I began to shop for myself (equipped with facemask and hand sanitiser).

This Mutual Aid principle reminded me of three of the most influential books from my student days that guided me into environmental activism.

  • The main message in Kropotkin’s book, Mutual Aid: a Factor of Evolution (1902) contradicts Darwin. Kropotkin argues that ‘natural selection’ leads to mutual aid, rather than competition, in both the animal and the human world. It is an interesting exploration of the human potential for co-operation. Kropotkin’s work was one of the motivations for my decision, after 7 years of student life (in between jobs) in the Netherlands and the UK not to seek a conventional job. In 1982 I helped set up a workers co-operative to sell recycled paper to printers, offices and voluntary organisations. Co-operative principles will, we hope, be a crucial element of a more equitable post-Covid 19 Britain.
  • Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) was the first serious scientific analysis of the disastrous impact of the indiscriminate use of pesticides on the natural eco-system and on human health, because of the carcinogens in the chemicals. Its impact curtailed and prohibited some of the more dangerous chemicals, such as DDT. However, the war against giant multi-nationals, such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dupont, is far from over. Pesticides such as neonicotinoids have contributed to a sharp decline in honey bees, which are such crucial pollinators. Carson’s work kindled my interest not only in organic farming, but also in a vegetarian diet with its reduced environmental impact. I became a vegetarian 50 years ago.
  • The Limits to Growth, (Club of Rome, 1972) was possibly the greatest influence on my thinking. Challenging the conventional economic growth principles of Capitalism, it predicted that ongoing economic and population growth would deplete the Planet’s resources and render it uninhabitable. I was much influenced by Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. He founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group where I once worked. Recently, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics develops these ideas with the concept of planetary boundaries, beyond which lie unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems.

The development of the Green New Deal in the US, promoted by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and adopted in the UK by the New Economics Foundation and by the Labour and Green Parties, creates a blueprint for our economic recovery and a just transition post Covid-19. The emergence of Extinction Rebellion and the school strike for climate initiated by Greta Thunberg rekindled interest in climate change action in 2019. It led to many Climate Emergency Declarations. This includes Hackney Council’s declaration in 2019, which Sustainable Hackney is now reviewing.

Covid-19 may lead to a sharp increase in unemployment, but it should create an opportunity for an ambitious re-skilling and re-employment and deployment in green industries and services, while other essential ingredients of this recovery are greater unionisation and a Real Living Wage.

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