Climate change and disabled Londoners: workshop 1

Kate Damiral was Climate Change Project Officer at NCVO from April 2011 until April 2013. Kate no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

We’ve now started work with our second cohort of organisations taking part in our vulnerable people and climate change project. We’re working with a range of disability and mental health groups all providing services in the capital. Together, we’ll be exploring what climate change could mean for the Londoners they support.

Our first workshop followed the same format as the initial session for our older Londoners’ cohort in the autumn.

This time, our climate change expert was Sonja Graham from Global Action Plan, who provided a really accessible introduction to the headline messages about climate change. Sonja’s presentation [PDF 800KB] has links to several short films including a comedy sketch from Armstrong and Miller and a crystal clear demonstration of the links between human activity and climate change from David Attenborough.

Here’s Sonja introducing herself and the work of Global Action Plan in this video.

Implications for beneficiaries and services

As in the first older people’s workshop, the afternoon focused on unpacking the implications of climate change trends – both for disabled people and the organisations that support them.

Similar concerns

Interestingly, there were a lot of similarities with the thinking of the older people’s cohort. For instance:

  • Heavy rainfall can cause mobility problems for both beneficiary groups, and delay outreach services.
  • Flood conditions pose heightened immediate risks for frail or less mobile people, as well as potentially long-lasting knock-on effects eg interrupting care routines or people’s local social networks
  • Hotter summer temperatures could be a mixed blessing, depending on people’s individual circumstances.

A range of mental health implications were also identified, for example:

  • the urban heat island effect will keep cities much hotter at night than the greenbelt, potentially making sleep difficult in the summer
  • hot temperatures can exacerbate conflict between drug and alcohol users
  • anxiety about climate change trends themselves could affect people’s wellbeing.

Here’s the summary of the disability cohort implications brainstorm [PDF 80KB].

Blitz spirit?

The exercise culminated in a discussion about whether we’ll see a revival of the war era ‘Blitz spirit’ in response to the climate change challenges we face – particularly for extreme weather events such as flooding or heatwaves. Participants highlighted the dangers that some people – including many of the cohort’s own service users – could be marginalised from this sort of groundswell response unless they are actively engaged.

This key insight was illustrated by our final speaker of the day, Sharon Bye from Equinox, a drug and alcohol charity. Equinox took part in The Big Response project, the pilot for our current programme. The organisation now has a collective appreciation of how climate change trends could impact on the organisation – from the disruption of extreme weather events to the potential increase in service users.

Sharon was also keen to highlight the potential for climate change impacts to increase inequality and disadvantage for those already vulnerable. For example, she explained that without support, many of Equinox’s service users would be unlikely to access mainstream disaster recovery services such as local community halls used for temporary shelter, because of lack of confidence – a feeling that they wouldn’t be welcome.

Read more about Equinox’s response to climate change and take a look at Sharon’s presentation slides [PDF 180KB].

Second round

As a few of the organisations who’d signed up were unable to make this first workshop, we also ran a two hour catch up session a couple of weeks later. So we now have a group of 12 disability and mental health organisations, all mulling over what climate change means to them and preparing to meet again next month.

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