With 200 local groups across the UK and 30 years experience of working with community volunteers, Friends of the Earth is a natural partner for the Manuka Club’s Training Programme. Here, Tom Kenward, capacity-building team leader at Friends of the Earth, (right), describes the varied and valuable role of training in community-based campaigning.
"Enabling community action is at the heart of Friends of the Earth's work as a grassroots network. For community-based volunteers to take effective action against environmental threats, they need skills, knowledge and confidence. This means a thorough understanding of the issues, the ability to develop and implement a campaigning strategy and strong organisational skills.
Community groups must also be able to adapt to changing circumstances. The nature of environmental campaigning has changed significantly over the last two decades. The early days of environmentalism were typified by single issue campaigning. For example, in the 1990s many high profile campaigns against road-building were opposed on the grounds that they threatened protected wildlife sites. Today, a community fighting a road scheme is likely to be grappling with a complex mix of arguments for and against, and will have to debate the economic benefits claimed for the road, as well as analysing its environmental impacts.
An increasingly sophisticated planning system has altered the terms of engagement for community groups. Campaigners now need to understand the interplay and trade-off between economic, environmental and social objectives, and be able to engage in technical issues such as using the law and scientific evidence. They can also help their cause by presenting credible alternatives to the building of a new road or other harmful schemes.
Although campaigning has become more challenging, it is encouraging to see that the numbers of people engaged in active community participation is on the rise. Government figures show that around 20.3 million people took part in some form of active citizenship in 2003, up from 18.8 million in 2001 - an increase of more than one and a half million.
So people do want to take action. Part of our role at Friends of the Earth is to facilitate that action through targeted training and other capacity-building support. Our experience is that community volunteers usually bring a large range of transferable skills from their daily lives, which can be enhanced by specialised learning opportunities, specific to campaigning. Seasoned campaigners can also continue to learn from training events as the field is always growing and changing.
Training topics we cover include the legal and planning system, team development skills, recruiting new members, fund-raising and working with the media. Training events deliver more than just skills and knowledge though. They provide a forum for networking and collaboration, and a catalyst for new relationships, inspiration and confidence. All these qualities are vital to the cohesion and focus of a campaign and cannot be gained through books or websites, but need face-to-face contact.
Funding from the Manuka Club has enabled us to appoint a Training and Development Co-ordinator, who is leading work to define and deliver the training needs of community-based campaigners. Our regional and national events are open to a range of community volunteers who have some experience of local campaigning. These events are a crucial way for people to gain skills, confidence and knowledge, share experience with their peers and plan strategy and actions.
More strategically from the perspective of national Friends of the Earth, investment in training and recruitment is crucial if we are to achieve real change in environmental policies - to see, for instance, stronger planning protection for greenbelt land, a commitment to sustainable alternatives to new roads and waste facilities, and real action to prevent harmful climate change.
With all this in mind, we are delighted that so many people are attending training events, and proud to be associated with the Manuka Club."
For more information on Friends of the Earth's work on enabling community campaigns, please visit the website.