Focus on local group Friends of the Earth England Wales & Northern Ireland
introducing Suzy Edwards
Name: Suzy Edwards
Job at Friends of the Earth: Coordinator, Camden Friends of the Earth
Job outside Friends of the Earth: Self-employed sustainable buildings consultant
Qualifications: BA in Environmental Biology, Liverpool University and Masters in Environment Impact Assessment, Aberystwyth University
Joined Friends of the Earth because: I wanted to be with like-minded people. I read the Ecologist magazine when I was in my teens and decided then and there that I wanted to do something to help the environment
Camden Friends of the Earth is a very vibrant group. We now have around 80 people on our mailing list, including 15 to 20 active members, and tackle a range of issues at both local and global level.
At one point not so long ago, we were down to two members and were feeling pretty despondent about it all. We were even considering a merger with Greenpeace (another leading environmental organization). Then several more people came along out of the blue and we now have a really lively team working together.
As coordinator of the group, it's my job to organise our activities and help decide which campaigns we work on, both locally and with Friends of the Earth at national level. I spend around two thirds of a day per week on the work and recently cut down the hours of my full time job as an independent sustainable buildings consultant in order to free up more time. My consultancy work is part of Local Agenda 21, an initiative which was set up after the 1992 Earth Summit with its drive to 'think global, act local'. I also help run environmental seminars on 'how to live on one's planet, so you could say I've taken something of a promiscuous eco-path!
The Big Issues for Camden
At Camden, we've got two main campaigns underway:
- Organizing an annual local food festival
- Helping to drive the Alliance against Urban 4x4s .
Food, glorious food
The Food Festival was launched for the first time last year and turned out to be a real local success story. The idea was to promote the wares of our local Farmers Market which was selling its organic produce in a supermarket car park and receiving very little publicity. We canvassed a number of local restaurants to find out if they were using local ingredients and then decided to organise a festival on the green in West Hampstead in the north part of the borough of Camden, in which 10 of these restaurants would each provide at least one dish using local produce for a week.
The Festival turned into a real event. We had live jazz, cookery demonstrations from a local chef, linen-covered tables, strawberry tastings, egg sorters. Thousands of people came along and we did a roaring trade in organic burgers! We're planning to repeat the event this June.
Chasing the 4x4s
Our other high profile activity is the battle against the growing number of four-wheel drive off-road vehicles in UK cities. These vehicles are not only gas-guzzlers - thanks to their larger engines and extra weight - but also cause more pollution per mile compared to other cars, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, unburned hydrocarbons and particulates. There are also serious safety issues posed by the vehicles' tall, boxy shape.
"I love the comradeship and friendship, the sense of all being there for each other"
and the lows...
"The job is never-ending. There's so much to be done and there's always the question as to what effect it has."
Friends of the Earth Camden was a founder member, with the Green Party and Greenpeace, of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s, which has grown into a very successful national campaign. The goal is to make it socially unacceptable to drive these vehicles in built-up urban areas - particularly on the school run, for example - and we have been lobbying hard for a tax increase on them, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the UK's Finance Minister) recently introduced. We're very much pushing on an open door with this campaign.
On one occasion, we went to Chelsea in West London - an area where 4x4s are particular common - armed with buckets of mud and red overalls. We offered to 'mud' people's cars, to underline the fact that off-road vehicles are meant to be used in the country, not the heart of the city. Another time, some of us went out as school 'lollipop ladies' (women whose job it is to help children cross the roads outside schools) to award parents report cards for driving their 4x4s. 'D minus' for environmental record, 'E' for road safety... We received a huge amount of press and TV coverage for that particular stunt!
For me, the fun of doing this is the comradeship and friendship involved. I also recently thought how glamorous it is to be able to turn up once a month somewhere in the back of a pub in the heart of London and be there with people who want to make a difference.
Of course, you can get frustrated with each other sometimes and it can be very hard work. You need to know you can rely on each other but you also have to be realistic and understand that people have day jobs as well. People give what they can.
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