On Saturday Nov 20th, after 18 months of hard work we FINALLY got the doors of ZERO open!
We couldn’t have asked for it to go much better, with about 200 people joining us for the opening ceremony, and around 500 people coming to see what all the fuss is about over the course of the day.
It would never have been possible to get to this point without the hard work and support of many people, from volunteers, to local businesses, to the University Of Surrey, and even some of our local councillors. And whilst some of the people who got us to the point of opening ZERO were in attendance on Saturday, it’s now down to the entire community to put the premises to the use it was intended for; building a community-led climate action plan.
It’s simply not possible to hit carbon neutrality without the borough coming together, across demographics and political divides, to put aside the things which divide us and focus on the things we share in common - the need to pass a habitable planet to our children, and the wish to lead by example in how communities can set the pace in driving forward climate action to protect our borough, our planet, and our fellow humans the world over. This requires residents, businesses, schools, the council, churches, and everyone else to begin discussing a collaborative and cohesive plan that puts fact based deliberation and consensus making ahead of ideology.
It's really easy to get stuck with a sense of hopelessness and disempowerment when you read or chat about the climate and ecological crisis - and never more so than after watching 2 weeks of failure on the global stage as politicians make empty promises on top of the promises from the Paris Agreement which they’re already failing at. Even if we deliver on all the pledges made at COP26 we’ll still be on target for a catastrophic 2.4 warming above pre-industrial levels. COP has failed us. Global leaders have failed us. And if we want to ensure a future for our children and grandchildren there’s no longer any doubt that we need to fill the void that global ‘leaders’ have left in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
But occasionally, there are glimmers of hope. And Saturday was definitely one of those. To see so many people come together in the centre of Guildford, and acknowledge the need for our borough to commit to playing our role in a global crisis through building community models that reshape how we live and work, how we treat each other and our fellow inhabitants on this planet, and how we evaluate the things which truly matter to us as a community, placing emphasis on human and planetary wellbeing instead of growth and consumerism.
We might be a medium size town, but alongside other communities across the globe who are driving forward community-led plans to avert the worst of climate breakdown, we can have an impact if we can utilise the unique set of factors in Guildford, share experiences and learning, and between us begin to set the pace that drags governments along with us at a speed appropriate to the threat we face.
Saturday gave us the chance to highlight some of the initiatives underway in Guildford. We were joined by Surrey Hills Baby Clothes Library, an initiative set up to cut fashion emissions, waste, and provide low income families with a constant supply of clothes for their little people. Guildford Library joined us to show off their Library of Things catalogue, which allows you to borrow handy household and garden implements without buying them.
Something we’re stoked about is our ongoing partnership with GCARE and Living Lab from the University Of Surrey. Parts of Guildford at times record the worst air pollution in the whole of England, so we’re ecstatic GCARE can feature prominently in ZERO, installing an air pollution interactive quiz machine, with live air quality monitoring coming soon!
We were also able to highlight our electric cargo bike try-before-you-buy scheme in partnership with Guildford Electric Bikes, the ZERO Wellbeing team stirred up some excitement for a wellbeing open day on Jan 15th, and our Terracycle points saw a constant stream of people donating their hard-to-recycles to us!
And on top of all that, we managed to get a small part of our zero waste shop open, with a delicious range of vegan sweets, chocolate, and fudge, all without plastic packaging, and 100% vegan! We’ll be filling the rest of the zero waste dispensers up soon, and alongside our cafe we hope these will help to keep us somewhat self-sufficient moving forward. (Keep it on the downlow but we might even be stocked up and open by the weekend of Dec 4th!)
Alongside the initiatives which can be found in ZERO we were joined by a number of speakers for talks. Facilitated by ZCG trustee and energy expert Olivia Carpenter-Lomax - who also chairs the Energy Group of Institute Of Engineering & Technology - we had a question & answer session on home energy and retrofitting. We were joined by Zoe Harris from the Uni of Surrey, and Seedleaves, to chat vertical farming, aeroponics, and hydroponics as part of a food security strategy. We also hosted Graham Miller and Tom Parrott, pro-vice-chancellor and head of sustainability respectively, to discuss the university's decarbonisation goals, and how research on campus can help the borough hit carbon neutrality. And last but not least we closed with Kat Kavanagh, Exceutive Director of Water Rangers, giving a talk on water quality and sampling. Kat is helping us start up a citizen science led water testing programme locally, in order to help protect and restore our local waterways - and stop water companies dumping untreated sewage on our communities.
So! Day 1 is over. But opening a building was never the end goal. It's just the beginning. From today the hard work begins. And that requires all of us who understand the nature of the threat we face taking action to engage people, to get people through the doors of ZERO, and to begin finding ways to work across demographics and political divides on the only thing that really matters. Protecting our futures, protecting our young people, and protecting the amazing and inspiring richness and diversity life on earth, that we are so close to eradicating forever.