A few years ago, I started an eco-group for my street. I’d lived in my road for about six years and, although I knew a few of my immediate neighbours, there were plenty of people living in the same street I didn’t know. One of my aims was to build community, along with the other essential aim which was to respond to the climate and ecological crisis.

Environmental campaigner Sarah Allen writes for the Journal.

I set up a Facebook group and invited the people I knew, hoping they would invite people they knew and it would grow and eventually include everyone. For I wanted (and still want) the solutions to reducing carbon emissions and biodiversity loss to come from everyone and everyone to be part of the answer. Prior to this, I’d noticed that when attending events about green issues it tends to be the same people showing up. What can be done to engage everyone with the urgency of the destruction of our home, planet Earth, whilst actually making it fun and enriching for people? The eco-group was born!

The first real thing to happen was a Book Swap. I’d wanted to do this for a while, always loving the idea of a little library in an old phone box or a purpose-built, water-tight cupboard. Then I read somewhere about someone simply putting a basket of books out next to the pavement in dry weather and this seemed the perfect, short-term, solution. So, in my front garden each dry day for the past three years or so I’ve put out books for people to take for free. This makes our street more interesting and some people plan their walk to go past my house so they can pick up or donate a book. I’ve spoken to so many people in the times I’ve put out the books or dashed out to take them in during a rain shower. Carbon emissions have been saved (as people generally walk and no new books are made for the Book Swap) and waste reduced as well as providing free access to books for all. As you can imagine, this really came into its own during the Covid lockdowns.

In the autumn I organised a Free Coat rail, again just in my front garden (weather dependant). For one week, I asked people to donate unwanted coats and invited everyone to take a coat if they wanted. Although this was in direct response to the cost of living crisis it was available to everyone whether they could afford to buy a new coat or not. The fashion industry has a hidden cost, one you don’t see when buying clothes, the cost to our fragile climate. Fashion is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions. Of course we need clothes and especially warm winter coats but there are so many coats already in existence, simply swapping them around = 0 carbon emissions. 15 coats were donated that week, 8 were taken straight from the rail and the remaining 7 were taken by a neighbour and donated to Exmouth Friends in Need.

Finally, a few weeks ago we had a Seed Share. Spring is the ideal time for this with most seeds needing sowing around now. It was good to encourage people to look through their packets of seeds and particularly if they had any with a sow by date of 2023 to donate some of the seeds if they didn’t think they would be able to use them all. We also had donations of seeds people had collected from plants in their garden last autumn and cuttings from shrubs. Posters were displayed, posts written in the, now growing, Facebook group and emails sent to let people know about this event. It is all very small scale still, with just a few people turning up and a few more passing dog-walkers stopping to take some seeds. However, it feels like such important work; connecting people whilst creating practical solutions to protect our living planet.

If you want to see what else we get up to, follow along on my new Facebook page ‘Eco-friendly Street’ or on Instagram @eco.friendly.street. The ideas can be rolled out street by street until we have the whole of Exmouth working on solutions. Could your street be an Eco-friendly Street?