02 Mar 2023
A new relationship
The post-pandemic campaigning space was difficult, and Leicester Friends of the Earth found itself struggling to reform. But in 2021, the group met Maria, an employee at The Race Equality Centre (TREC), a local charity committed to challenging racial discrimination and promoting the benefits of a racially just society.
Over the years the group had tried to forge different relationships with other groups, but something about this connection was different. Hannah Wakley, a regular group member, suspects she knows why: “previously we had tried to build relationships with other groups by taking them things we wanted them to do for us. This time we went to them with an offer – just to help”.
Opening new doors
Maria introduced Leicester Friends of the Earth to City Retreat, a Muslim community centre in the heart of the city. There they met Imam Sheikh Shafi Chowdhury and discovered his passion for environmental issues. Their conversations led to a public meeting with speakers from different faiths discussing their faith’s views on the environment. “So many people were there, from networks we never would have reached” commented Hannah, “and we did so little. City Retreat did it all”.
Their conversations reinstated just how much they all had in common.
From biodiversity to equality
When Maria suggested a disused piece of land in the Highfields area as a location for urban gardening, group members, started to reflect on the inequalities in their city. Highfields is characterised by a large Asian population (80%), with a Caribbean and white minority. It’s typically a poorer part of Leicester and is an area where new arrivals to the city tend to start off.
“I started to realise how different it is to my area” Hannah wondered, “and I started to ask ‘why’?”. The conversation merged structural inequalities with biodiversity. Hannah reflected efforts to green the city tended to be confined to whiter areas where challenges to proposed building works on existing green spaces were more likely to be made and upheld. The group decided it was time Highfields was given some attention.
“It feels strange to stop campaigning on the climate crisis, to spend time gardening in the community instead” Hannah said “but once we let go of the idea that other issues were too urgent, we realised – this is not a waste of time”.
Having secured a grant from Friends of the Earth, the Leicester group got to work on its community garden. But Maria’s ideas for greening Highfields didn’t stop there. On request, Leicester Friends of the Earth is now constructing accessible raised beds at Caribbean Court to enable the centres elders to do their own gardening.
Two years after meeting Maria, the group is now deeply involved in their community. Hannah grew up near Leicester but now experiences the city differently. “I was proud of the city’s diversity, but now I see that true integration is not just living side by side”.
In a divided and divisive modern world, Leicester Friends of the Earth is becoming a group that truly campaigns for environmental justice: sewing community cohesion and creating the space to reflect and learn, alongside their green spaces.