Testing new ground: Climate conversations with ESOL learners

And after several meetings, discussions, revisions and delivering train the trainer training, finally the day had come.  

I had not idea about what might happen in the slightest, yet I remained excited about what could be. As I arrived in the meeting room at High Trees Community Development Trust I was greeted by a lovely lady… “hello Miss, are you our teacher?” Feeling a bit like I was in school I answered, “I’m here to work with you through this programme yes”. With the gentle smile she offered she then welcomed me “nice to have you”. We went around the room and introduced ourselves, our names and where we lived, there were around 10 participants and another member of staff. We included the memory game, trying to remember everyone’s names as we went along which everyone seemed to enjoy. Off to a good start I thought, and I soon noticed who that characters where around the room.  

Now the part that I was apprehensive about… How do I explain this programme to ESOL learners, a programme that may be completely detached to what they feel important, what if they may feel is of no relevance to their lives? What if the language barrier stops them from being able to participate?  

After setting aside my what if’s and realising that that was in fact happening, I took a deep breath and began to explain “Future Conversations”. A programme developed to look at our hopes and fears for the future, for our lives and our planet and to learn tools on how to become more resilient and be more connected as a community. We talked through the current situation of our planet and the evidence we see caused by climate change, and right at that moment I began to see how engaged the participants were. Not only where they engaged, but they had lots to say about it! One mentioned “this big business is what is causing a lot of the problems”. And “back home there is not enough water to grow the crops, or there is flooding” 

I realised that my assumptions were just that, and this group was being offered something they felt was important to them. It did mean going at a slower pace and allowing time to fully understand certain words. But, at the end of the 1st session they showed a huge amount of gratitude some said “I really like this, it’s different, it’s making me think”. I left feeling hopeful for the coming weeks ahead. 

As we progressed through the sessions, I noticed that participants particularly enjoyed thinking about what made them stronger using the tree analogy. For many of them it was the first time they were able to reflect and understand what their root systems were, and what they needed more of to be able to do what they wanted and needed to do effectively. They also began to realise how they could support each other, one lady mentioned “we shouldn’t just wait to be asked for something, but we should check to see if there is a need” which I thought was remarkable. I always learn so much from others when facilitating.  

When going through the Joanna Macy’s the work that reconnects the group were able acknowledge their pain for injustice and what we’re doing to our planet. They were able to relate around their inability to find good work because of language barriers, as well as acknowledging that if we do not do something soon, there will be no jobs and not planet in fact for our children. When they envisioned their ideal futures many of them shared, love, joy, happiness, connected communities of sharing, and family. They began to think about what was possible, they began to believe that they could make a difference and that regardless of how big or small it was, it was still important to do something.  

They planned to do an event where they would make posters to bring awareness about climate change and our environment. They brought their own materials and balloons to celebrate the completion of the course. During on presentation a participant said “we want people to be aware of what we are doing to our planet” and as they reflected on the programme they shared “we loved this programme, we have made new friends, learnt new things and we want to make a difference”. I was very moved by these words. This meant that everything we had done, all of the hard work we had put in without knowing what would happen as a result, was all worth it.  

My absolute joy is to see people empowered for positive change, and this programme does exactly that, about real issues that will inevitably affect us all. I was grateful to have been on that journey with them, and anticipated out “what’s next?”.  

The fruits of our first harvest

We feel things are changing faster than usual, both outside in the beautiful world, and inside ourselves and our communities. What a year ago would have looked impossible  is happening right now. Awareness of the impact of plastic and fossil fuels is no longer a well kept secret. We have the information; we have the power to take action.

So with winds of change and hope we brought climate change and climate justice conversations to everyday communities, where people think locally, just about day to day basic needs, or at least, that is what we thought.

After setting aside my what if’s, I took a deep breath and began to explain “Future Conversations,” a programme developed to look at our hopes and fears for the future, for our lives and our planet and to learn tools to help us to become more resilient and to be more connected as a community. We talked through the current situation of our planet and the evidence of impacts we see caused by climate change, and right at that moment I began to see how engaged the participants were. Not only were they engaged, but they had lots to say about it! One mentioned “this big business is what is causing a lot of the problems.”  And “back home there is not enough water to grow the crops, or there is flooding.” I realised that my assumptions were just that, and this group was being offered something they felt was important to them.

Facilitators from the Future Conversations core team supported three pilots:  HighTrees Community Development Trust in London, Sneinton Community in Nottingham and Belville Community Garden Development Trust in Greenock.  

In the first few sessions, we aimed at creating a safe container for the group to merge, for people to build trust and explore what it means to be part of a group, to be part of something bigger than yourself. Later on, we brought in the resilience tools, using nature as our collaborator and inviting people to sense our relationship to our planet, the connections and the dependency that we have with all that is around us. Then, with the group  having built their resilience, we brought in the hard scientific data about the state of the world, shook things up but held the group with nature connection tools. We finished with sessions oriented to acknowledge our power and creativity to bring projects forward to create a more beautiful community.

“It is good to hear people care.  I am used to people rolling their eyes everytime I open my mouth.  The conversation needs to be had, no matter how hard it is.”  

We have created a conversation that threads through people and their stories, a link that brings hope to communities and makes people realise their potential. We have built groups and activated community spaces, with all of this energy and enthusiasm of a few local people. These are some of the projects that people were passionate about:

  • A community growing and cooking project which welcomes everyone, no matter their capabilities, and finds a role suited to each. 
  • A project to help young people understand why destroying things, especially in parks and wild spaces, is harmful   
  • The group committing to helping one member with a personal difficulty 
  • Community cafe 
  • Market ability stall to support people with diverse functionalities

The outcomes for the pilot groups clearly show the value of this process as a way to surface awareness about people’s power, their capacity to act together and the potential that such organised action has on local communities. Another outcome is a clearer understanding on hopes and concerns for the future, enabling further self-awareness and community awareness. In addition, we have seen participants build individual and group-work skills to cope with impacts, adding an element of resilience.Our absolute joy is to see people empowered for positive change, and this programme does exactly that, about real issues that will inevitably affect us all. I was grateful to have been on that journey with them, and anticipated out “what’s next?”

Watch video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ytnSopjFfw&t=14s