Chichester, an eco town – an informal sustainability blueprint for other towns to follow?

The story of Eco Chichester’s sustainability journey

Eco Chi, as we call it, is a varied group of people interested in our local, national, and international environment, and how to protect and indeed enhance it. Most of us are also very concerned about the climate emergency.

Pre-dating our group were other environmental groups and looser associationsone of these being Transition Chichester (founded 2008) with its spin-offs including Eco Cinema/talks; Green Tea meetings; community orchards; community vegetable growing; quarterly swap shops where people bring unwanted items and take away what they need, with no money changing hands. Others include Chichester Organic Gardening Society (COGS), and Green Drinks (part of an international network of informal drinks meetings, out of which Transition Chichester grew). Members also belong to groups such as the local RSPB and a natural history society. Two of us are part of a national team of WI Climate Ambassadors and some of us are Quakers.

How it all began

Eco Chi was started in January 2019 because some people are unable to come to evening meetings such as for COGS or Transition. We decided on Monday meetings between 9:30-11:00ish and soon settled on a large, hospitable independent café, this being a quieter day and finishing well before their busier lunchtime service. We have no problem with people who have to arrive late or leave early. Meetings are very informal: we go round the table sharing events and what’s happening with other groups (such as tree wardens). We chip in ideas where we can. Nobody is made to feel obliged to speak if they don’t want to. Clearing our cups and teapots at the end and putting the tables back in their usual places helps keep things sweet with our friendly hosts!

After over a year we still have new people coming, which is very rewarding. For my part, I feel very pleased that such a friendly and active group has formed so quickly, and I’m very reassured that there are far more people in the area who are concerned about the environment – I thought I knew them all through Transition but apparently not! We have a very active Facebook group sharing ideas and articles, also used by people who can’t get to meetings. There is also a website with links to all sorts of resources and products.

What happened next

Activities that have arisen out of our group include a market stall on Wednesdays in the town centre, giving out information about what we and other local groups are doing; equally important is finding out about issues and other things going on from passers-by.  We also have a swap shop clothes rail. One of our members comments: “A year ago Eco Chi volunteers were getting ready for our first market stall. From memory, we thought we might have a stall once a month. By the end of the day, we had realised we needed to be there every week, and were working out how to do this (after a week’s breather to collect our thoughts!). What followed was a year of many conversations, and of new friends.” When it became impracticable to run the stall in winter we were offered the use of a small shed by a friend of Eco Chi who runs Draper’s Yard, a market of local creatives and traders, to continue spreading the word. We have also had a forum with our MP, with the promise of more to come.

One of our members runs wildflower gardening projects and has been selling alder buckthorn plants at a nominal charge to attract sulphur-coloured brimstone butterflies. She also sells chutney made from windfall fruits etc. to raise funds for her projects. Another member organised a talk by a volunteer from West Sussex County Council about the county’s recycling system which told us far more of the ins and outs of the process than most of us knew before – and we thought we knew a lot.

Action happens very quickly when someone has an idea, proving that we are not just a talking shop – although discussion is important!

During April 2019 a few members took part in the second Extinction Rebellion action in London, and following that several of us joined our newly formed Extinction Rebellion Chichester group, which has become very active. Without the contribution of Eco Chi the group would have grown much more slowly.

Most of the above is my own knowledge, opinions and feelings of the group. Now I’ll move on to a straw poll about what it means to other members .

  • From someone new to the area – “I can tune into what’s happening. I was feeling low but now feel renewed, and glad to be doing something
  • the group is an inspiration, the city is really lucky to have people fighting for things we need so desperately
  • I sense an ability to do more by getting people involved, for instance the stall had been mooted long before and now it’s happened
  • I was already well-informed and it’s so nice to come to a group where people share concerns and do something about it
  • I’ve become more active locally – I’ve joined Extinction Rebellion because of Eco Chi
  • It’s easy to be overwhelmed especially because of the General Election result and Brexit
  • I was doubtful it would take off but have been amazed by the energy in the room. It’s a  good way of networking. I would like to see Eco Chi merge more with Transition
  • I’m new to area. I used to run a plastics recycling business but the government still not listening – eg three different types of plastic are allowed used in shampoo bottles. I love the networking
  • There’s a feeling of belonging and also making individual connections
  • I’m a natural loner. I used to run an organic farm in Wales. Now I’m feeling motivated, wanting to make a contribution and meet new people. I’m a writer and happy to be poet for the group!
  • I like the two-way process, meeting people, the informality, things happening
  • We need more interaction with local areas/groups including the outlying villages [this being a largely rural and coastal area]

I invite comments from Eco Chi members, local people, and people everywhere!

Diana Morgan is an active environmentalist, member of Eco Chi, XR, Transition, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. She sells- eco-friendly products through EcoStepByStep.