How to set up a local group

René Gonzalez was on paternity leave when he took on the challenge of reinventing Lambeth Friends of the Earth.
  Published:  02 May 2019    |      1 minute read

"My partner and I had just adopted our little boy and so I had some time on paternity leave. It gave me time to think.

"I was feeling very frustrated about the lack of action on climate change. I realised I would have to do something about it myself, and so I looked up groups that were taking action. 

René Gonzalez Lambeth friends of the earth coordinator
René Gonzalez Lambeth friends of the earth coordinator
Credit: Ellen Foster-Price/Friends of the Earth

"I found out that there used to be a Friends of the Earth local group in Lambeth, but it fizzled out about two years ago. I spoke to the team at headquarters and we decided I should have a go at restarting it.

"Our first meeting was in September 2018. So far we've had quite a good turn out, with a dozen or so people at one meeting. 

"We've only been going a short time, but we've already done campaigning on climate change, reducing single-use plastic and air pollution - a huge local issue in Lambeth. 

Tips for starting a local group

"In some ways it has been quite easy because there was already a network in place, but there were challenges.

"For example, Friends of the Earth leaves the choice of campaign topics entirely up to the local groups. This is great for democracy, but sometimes people contact me and just want to be told what to do.

"I don’t have all the answers and sometimes it’s just a case of ‘if you’re interested in it, start campaigning on it’.

"It's also hard to find volunteers to do the less interesting jobs such as admin. We're all busy and we have to be careful we don't take on too much.

Why campaign?

"Friends of the Earth appeals to me because it focuses on fostering structural change. It's not about overthrowing the system or relying entirely on individuals to change their behaviours.  

"I think it has realistic aims and the policy and evidence to back up its positions. That really helps with campaigning. 

The change I want to see is building a community movement. René Gonzalez, Co-ordinator Lambeth Friends of the Earth

"We have a broad vision and we want to be the home of the environmental movement in and around Lambeth." 

Friends of the Earth has the largest network of grassroots environmental activism groups in the UK. There are 157 local groups with an average of 42 volunteer members.