With Earth Day this Sunday, we talk to a charity that’s helping to make London’s neighbourhoods greener. East London environmental education charity ecoACTIVE works on a range of issues, from waste-prevention to community gardens, forest schools and more. We ask them about their efforts to raise the eco-consciousness of kids and grownups alike.
Tell us about ecoACTIVE.
ecoACTIVE is an environmental education charity, based in Hackney, East London. We gained charity status in 2008 and our mission is to educate and inform young people, families and communities to enable them to live and work in a sustainable way.
We engage around 20,000 beneficiaries every year, through schools, children’s centres, community groups and at events. We help people increase their knowledge and skills and gain confidence in their ability to address a number of issues, including waste prevention and recycling, composting, litter and local environmental quality, biodiversity and wildlife, community gardening, air quality, energy and climate change. We also run outdoor education and forest-school sessions with young people, to help them improve their wellbeing and benefit from learning and playing in a green space. Ultimately, we aim to facilitate positive changes in people’s lives—whether at school, work or home—and encourage them to take ownership of improving their local surroundings and communities.
What sorts of projects do you undertake, and where in London do you work?
We undertake a range of projects with schools and in community settings, primarily in North and East London, and sometimes further afield.
Some of our recent projects have included running a waste prevention and recycling project in 14 schools across North London, thanks to funding from North London Waste Authority. This has enabled schools to investigate the amount of waste they throw away and give them some practical ideas for reducing, reusing and recycling more of this rubbish.
We are working with the London Borough of Hackney’s Recycling Team, to deliver recycling, waste prevention, composting and litter and Local Environmental Quality sessions with Hackney schools, community groups and with the general public at events. These sessions are very popular, with participants enjoying our hands-on activities like making recycled paper or meeting tiger worms.
Our Access to Nature Project, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, has enabled us to work with three schools, six community groups and twenty local volunteers, in a park called Daubeney Fields, in Hackney. Participants are learning more about their local wildlife, gaining new skills such as how to identify species, and helping to improve habitats.
London and Quadrant Foundation have also awarded us a grant to work with communities in Haggerston, Whitmore and Edmonton, helping residents learn more about their local wildlife and how they can increase biodiversity.
Our 12-week forest-school projects (funded by a Hackney Community and Voluntary Sector grant) have taken place this year at six schools. The sessions have provided children aged 7 to 11 years the opportunity to really explore their school grounds or a local park. The children referred to these projects are those who might need a bit of extra help, perhaps to gain some confidence, develop their social skills, or increase their ability to concentrate on tasks. We have seen some fantastic results, with great feedback from pupils’ teachers and parents, about how the children have developed since taking part.
Thanks to funding from Sanctuary Housing Association, we are working with residents on Kingsmead Estate in Hackney, to support them in looking after two community gardens. Other residents on this estate have formed a waste action group, to help increase reuse and recycling and reduce contamination across the estate’s recycling bins.
Why is ecoACTIVE’s work necessary?
Our work is necessary because many Londoners do not have access to their own garden, or perhaps do not utilise their local green space, other than for dog walking, or playing in playgrounds. We are passionate about helping everyone experience nature and showing them that they can really enjoy exploring aspects of their local surroundings that they might not have noticed before. Once someone has spent time with their local wildlife, they will feel more inclined to protect and care for it. Spending regular time outdoors also provides benefits for people’s health and wellbeing and can lead to a better quality of life.
Our classroom sessions equip people with the knowledge, tools and skills to audit and assess their impact on the environment and arm them with some ideas for reducing waste, saving energy or recycling more. If we don’t all act now, future generations will not be able to enjoy the same opportunities that we have.
Our community sessions bring people together, helping neighbours meet each other and join forces for a common cause. Regular gardening sessions, or a weekly coffee morning learning about how to save energy at home, can help isolated people feel more connected to their community.
What are any obstacles you face?
Finding funding, particularly income that lasts for more than one year, is always an ongoing challenge for ecoACTIVE. We are very grateful for the funding we receive that supports many of our projects, but it is often more difficult to fund our core costs, like rent and other overheads.
Our staff’s time is sometimes a bit stretched, particularly during our busy periods, however we have a very dedicated team of freelance session workers and volunteers, who support us at our sessions, and also assist behind the scenes at our office. We are very lucky to have such a brilliant group of people supporting and representing us.
Sometimes we face obstacles in schools, where teachers are pulled in many different directions. For example, there is lots of pressure on schools to reach attainment targets, and they may not feel able to also take on one of our projects. It is vital that we demonstrate how our sessions link to the National Curriculum and also show the benefits for pupils of learning about real-world issues. We develop sessions that are designed to complement work that teachers are already doing and can support learning in other areas.
What are your funding sources?
We currently receive funding from a number of statutory sources (like our contracts with LB Hackney and North London Waste Authority) and have also received grant funding from a range of trusts and grant-giving bodies, for example, BBC Children in Need, Heritage Lottery and West Hackney Parochial Charity. We also receive fees paid by individual organisations, who book us to deliver sessions and projects for them.
Do you hold any fundraising events?
We don’t hold fundraising events as we haven’t currently got the capacity to explore this option. Donations from individuals is not a big source of income for ecoACTIVE, however this could be an area for us to develop further in the future.
How can people get involved?
We are always keen to have new people get involved in our work. If you would like to volunteer on one of our projects, or support us behind the scenes in the office, or as part of our Management Committee, please get in touch via the contact page on our website. If you would like to book one of our sessions, for a school or a group, or if you’d like us to attend an event, please also get in touch—we’d love to hear from you.