Change can be hard to prove, especially in Citizens’ Jury processes. It is harder still to measure empowerment, agency and different power structures that can be an important impact of citizens’ jury processes.
We had the opportunity to meet with Helen Moriarty, Project Manager at Kendal Town Council to catch up on their progress since the Kendal Climate Change Citizens’ Jury two years ago.
The jury, consisting of twenty people who reflected the diversity of Kendal’s population, convened for ten sessions between July and October 2020. After hours of interrogating the science, deliberating the evidence, and formulating solutions, the jury came up with a total of 27 recommendations. You can read more about the jury and find their full list of recommendations. Since the launch of the recommendations, Kendal Town Council has been hard at work to make the jury’s vision of Kendal a reality.
The jury in its recommendations asked for ‘clear political leadership from our local council’. Impressively, Kendal Town Council (KTC) has now redirected two thirds of its staff time to work that responds directly to the jury recommendations including the creation of a Development and Delivery Manager role dedicated to the implementation of the jury’s recommendations and a new Projects Officer to help shoulder the load. Also, in its February 2022 budget meeting it agreed to a rise in council tax (equating to £2.50 a year for a house in Band D) to pay for a raft of projects many of which respond to the recommendations.
One of the recommendations (ranked 8th overall, and 1st in the theme of Food and Farming) was focused on developing allotments for people to grow their own food – this was well within the remit of the Town Council, and they were able to expand their allotments early in the implementation process.
The top priority recommendations from the Kendal Jury were under the theme of ‘Housing and Energy’, with all three recommendations under this theme ranking 1st overall – the jury clearly placed the utmost importance on energy efficiency standards, as well as community ownership and potential of local clean energy production.
Equal top recommendation for Energy production: We ask that local councils do an assessment of the resources available in the area to generate our own renewable energy (including: solar power, hydro power and wind power). For the solar option to identify how many buildings with suitable large roofs are available in Kendal (e.g. supermarkets).
To meet this demand for local renewable energy, the Council teamed up with Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) and South Lakes District Council (SLDC) to perform a solar audit in Kendal.
In this case, according to Helen, SLDC was the key to untangling what might have devolved into a planning nightmare. Kendal, as a historic market town in the Lakes, has a significant proportion of its land and buildings marked as conservation areas, which can make it difficult for residents to obtain planning permissions to install solar panels. Unfortunately, purchasing and installing solar panels can also be pricey, and this can be a barrier to those who cannot afford it.
The Council has completed the solar audit and is progressing on the implementation of the ‘Solar Made Easy Kendal’ initiative in response to the Jury’s recommendation of producing Kendal’s own renewable energy. The project aims to encourage householders to adopt renewable energy generation whilst streamlining the quoting and installation process for busy suppliers by providing them with “clusters” of households to work with. The initiative has had a fantastic response, with over 100 households registering to receive quotes from vetted local suppliers as part of the first Kendal cluster. The Council is confident that this would not be happening if not for the work of the Kendal Jury.
The Jury’s energy and passion is seemingly infectious – not only has the Labour Party in Kendal established a working group to consider what they can contribute to implementation, councillors continue to reference the jury’s work in the development of projects. The Town Council’s newsletter strongly features the jury’s recommendations and the council’s implementation journey.
Throughout the process of implementation, the Council has also continued to hold itself accountable through the Kendal Recommendations Panel, comprising of both Oversight Panel members and Kendal Jury members.
Kendal Town Council also showcases the potential of what can happen even at the town level of local government – the Council has a total of 8 staff members and does not have jurisdiction over many of the aspects of local governance which the recommendations target.
However, Helen suggests that being confident and working with the people who can make that happen, is a positive way of tackling this problem. For example, though the Cumbria County Council (CCC) is responsible for highways, the Council has succeeded in securing their commitment to developing a 20mph scheme, in order to meet the recommendation for improved cycling provision (ranking 2nd in the theme of Transport and 18th overall).
Developing partnerships with existing organisations, networks and projects has been pivotal to the implementation process, demonstrating the important role of the Town Council as convenor.
Many of the recommendations were centred around educating and engaging the community on climate action; one of the jury’s three prioritised themes was ‘promoting action and raising awareness’.
Recommendation 13: ‘Provide accessible information to make it easier for individuals to make informed decisions’.
KTC has launched an engaging website ‘Zero Carbon Kendal’ to provide inspiring examples from across the town on local projects, campaigns and actions that residents can take as well as introductory information on climate change including video links to presentations from the jury.
The council has also chosen other creative means to engage Kendal residents – organising activities to educate children on climate change at festivals, making sculptures to represent impacts and issues around climate change, and including a ‘green street’ comprising of stalls themed around sustainability and climate change during the annual Kendal Torchlight Carnival. As Helen puts it, the process of implementing the recommendations has provided ample opportunity to actively engage residents in positive local action.
For instance, at the end of the jury, the Council had crowdfunded a recommendations launch video that was then toured for interested local groups and political parties over 8 screening events. Those who signed up to the crowdfunding campaign, alongside people who signed up to be updated via the jury website, went on to eventually form a network of 256 community volunteers.
They became the first port of call when KTC needed volunteers – they helped with the solar audit, contributed case studies, helped to design the Zero Carbon Kendal website, came along to work with and talk about the climate change sculptures at the Torchlight festival, and helped with communications and technical support.
In response to the jury’s recommendation to create a ‘one-stop shop’ to provide accessible information about climate change (ranked 13th overall and 3rd in the theme of promoting action and raising awareness), Helen admits that it was a struggle to find an affordable property in the town centre that fit the Council’s criteria. Instead, KTC looked to form a partnership with Waste Into Wellbeing in Kendal, a community-led project that rescues and re-distributes food from local supermarkets, shops and eateries through the Kendal People’s Café.
For the time being, the climate change information hub would operate out of the People’s Café on a pop-up basis – residents can stop by for a slice of rescued cake and a conversation with community volunteers or jury members about the recommendations.
The Council has however, also managed to procure lottery funding, and dedicated £30,000 over the course of 3 years, to regenerate and retrofit the Strickland Gate House through eco-design, to eventually serve as a permanent Eco-Hub in Kendal.
Kendal: A model of successful implementation
Despite their relatively small size and jurisdiction, KTC has maintained agency and decision-making beyond its perceived limitations through the jury’s work as well as its community and relationships with local change-making organisations, stakeholders and existing partners such as CAfS and others. Despite the Cumbrian local government reorganisation and the revolving doors of 10 Downing Street, Kendal Town Council – as the closest level of government to its community – offers a comforting connectedness and stability to its residents in this atmosphere of uncertainty.
Arguably the town council’s closeness to its community is a strong factor in the delivery of the recommendations, and in doing so, they provide the community itself with the impetus and ability to act as change-makers. In the face of an impossibly huge global climate crisis, this presents an opportunity for Kendal residents to take back control and agency over their response; not only does this encourage further local climate action, but it can lessen some of the anxiety and powerlessness that is so often associated with climate change.
Ultimately, the story of Kendal’s Climate Change Citizens’ Jury isn’t just a story of what a successful citizens’ jury can look like. It isn’t just a story of what successful implementation and progress monitoring following a jury process can look like. It’s a story of how the first ever online, town-level citizens’ jury precipitated collaboration across a network of change-makers towards a common goal. Kendal is an example of how change really can happen through community organisation and collaboration, and how citizens’ juries can lay the foundations for that.
Download the Kendal report on the Kendal’s Climate Change Citizens’ Jury
Read more about this process on the Participedia website