low carbon living

Low carbon living with Cambridge Carbon Footprint

Low carbon living in Cambridge

There seem to be few good news stories about the environment nowadays.  The media highlight daily some new crisis that leaves us feeling powerless and overwhelmed.  So it was refreshing to meet Alana Sinclair who, through her charity Cambridge Carbon Footprint that has, since 2005, been inspiring hundreds of Cambridge residents to make their own contribution in what she hopes will see a cultural shift in the city and beyond. I spoke to Alana about this big ambition.

Chief amongst the aims of Cambridge Carbon Footprint is to support people in moving to low-carbon living.  Alana says “Successful environmental action relies on a mix of political influence, business involvement and personal action.  CCF is mostly about the last of these: making people feel they can do something about climate change”.  Although with only three staff members, CCF’s 250 volunteers, and the charity’s connections with a range of businesses, councils, community groups, and other organisations, gives them an effective influence in the city.

Seeing waste differently

The charity operates two main projects: Circular Cambridge and Open Eco Homes.  The term ‘circular economy’ refers to … Well you can look it up, but a lot of it is about seeing waste in a different way; in fact, not as waste at all.

I came across Alana and her repair cafes a few weeks ago when I was writing about the Right to Repair.  “Back in 2014, we were aware of two repair cafés, in Cottenham and Royston.  So, along with Transition Cambridge, we joined forces with them and with South Cambridgeshire district council.  There are now about 16 cafes in the Repair Café network that takes place in and around Cambridge, which we either run ourselves or support directly.  You’ll now find one to two cafés a month held somewhere in the area”.

Repairs, refreshments, and learning

How do they work?  “Cambridge is full of engineers,” Alana tells me “so we have a huge network of people who like to mend stuff, anything from phones, to watches, to furniture.  We arrange café sessions in community facilities, advertise well in advance and spend some happy hours repairing”.  You can turn up to a café on spec, but it’s often best to pre-book to better manage your time and to make sure the repairers come with the right kit or can tell you what bits to buy in advance. Alana tells me Mackays of Cambridge are really supportive, making tools available and looking after two fully stocked repair kits (donated by Draper Tools), which get sent out as needed to the different cafés.

As well as repairs and refreshments, there’s a big emphasis on learning.  “Our repairers like to sit with the people who bring in their broken items and show them what they’re doing, so it’s a social and educational event as much as anything.  We get people of all ages attending”.  I admit to my own shortcomings in this area. “It’s a confidence thing,” Alana says.  “Sometimes you just need some basic knowledge to start. Now I’m happy to get them back off my laptop or re-wire a lamp”.  CCF is running a café in November specifically to teach practical skills.

Taking ownership of climate change

As CCF’s only full-time member of staff Alana has had to develop quite a number of skills herself: bookkeeping and accounts, writing press releases, website management, events organising, funding applications and more all sit within her job description.  But it is the people’s side she enjoys most.  “We are about getting people to take ownership of climate change; getting them to take practical steps in ways that make sense to them”.  This certainly makes sense to me, when environmental problems can seem so daunting and beyond control.

Open Eco Homes 

We talk a little about the Open Eco Homes project as well, though there’s enough there for another blog at a later date.  Alan Shepherd, another member of the CCF team who also has a long history with the Centre for Alternative Technology, drives this initiative.  CCF has good relations with the owners of several local homes that have been built or renovated to a high specification in terms of energy and resource efficiency and with wider environmental credentials.  Periodically these are kindly opened to view, allowing others to be inspired about eco-homes and informed specifically about different technologies.  “We have been running this program for 10 years now”, says Alana “longer than any similar project in the UK”.  They also run workshops to explore specific issues, such as ventilation, materials, or self-build.

Making it happen

I am amazed at just how much CCF seems to get done.  “We are so reliant on our networks,” Alana says.  “Along with Alan, Nicole Barton is our main organiser of events and volunteer participation. But there are lots of other groups who share our principles and ambitions”. The Cambridge Council’s Climate Leaders Group brings a lot of like minds together and gives CCF invaluable links, as well as helping get council support where they can provide it.

So what’s next?  “We have a number of ideas though we’re still working some of these through and confirming different funding streams”.  There are plans to develop their public face further and revamp the website and communications strategy. “We have to maximise every opportunity to provoke more thinking on this issue, to get some real cultural change”.  Having met with Alana, I have no reason to doubt she will succeed.

Swap, collect and fix-fest

If you want to see what CCF and their partners get up to, go to the next event, which combines repairs with a swap shop in the Brown’s Field Swap, Collect and Fix-Fest.  It will be held at Brown’s Field Youth and Community Centre between 11 am and 2 pm on Saturday 16th February.  Better still, dig out that old broken watch from the back of the bedroom drawer and let them work their magic.


Dawn Giesler, is the founder of scuseme Cambridge, an online marketplace that helps your family run smoothly. She has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advise based on her own experiences. For more information visit scuseme

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