It’s a blustery day in the sleepy suburb of Northfield when we visit ecoBirmingham’s headquarters – a modest building, nestled behind an estate agent and an adult education centre, with pots of paint still on the floor between refurbishment efforts, and a shovel sticking out of the ground outside between plantings.
Welcoming us inside, we sit down as the staff tell us about their key points of focus – education, environment, and green commuting.
ecoBirmingham and environmental education
How are the future generations going to learn about the ecosystems around us? We speak to Anne Dasgupta, the education co-ordinator and administrator here at ecoBirmingham, about her work. She says:
“Though they’ve faced many challenges through the pandemic, one thing especially stood out education-wise: “getting to the schools – that was impossible”.
Still, despite difficulties getting into schools, a surge of interest came out of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the summer of 2021, ecoBirmingham had a massive demand when restarting outdoor activities and outdoor holiday clubs, where the kids had a full day of outdoor activities at one of ecoBirmingham’s partner community gardens. The education programme includes learning about woodworking tools they can use, identification charts, and ways to play involving nature.
The trips conclude with a campfire: “We cook our lunches on the campfire which is always a highlight”, says Anne, “Once outside it’s usually child led, however we do have a lot of activities to prompt the imagination if needed”. Their “mini craftivist” ethos means that children can learn and make a difference while creating.
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive: “People were really welcoming getting out again and getting to meet others as well”, says Anne. The focus on Brum’s green spaces as well has been a breath of fresh air for many locals, who see Birmingham as a concrete jungle, full of crumbling brutalism and dirty grey concrete.
Anne points out that, “Although Birmingham is quite a green city, in some areas you might not have [a green space] in directly walking distance. For some families, it’s not their option to go … we want to give this to kids, the opportunity then to have these activities added offset even when parents are not able to do that”.
The green cycling revolution
Weekly rides, newfound confidence, and carbon reduction – what more can you ask for? ecoBirmingham has set up the Brum by Bike initiative to teach cycling skills and instil confidence in riding, especially for shorter journeys around the city – 25 percent of Birmingham’s car journeys are under a mile, and most of those cars on the road could be replaced by bikes.
Esther Barnes, the project coordinator for cycling at ecoBirmingham, says:
“Through years of working with people that it’s not just about tuition, it’s about finding routes and discovering what Birmingham has got to offer.”
But there’s a feeling among Brummies that cycling just isn’t safe in Birmingham. Car-centric road designs, dangerous drivers, and the misconception that Brum has no cycle lanes all lead to that anxiety.
Esther wants to shake off that conception: “It’s nowhere near as bad as what people think.”
Their 69 Wards project is also helping to change that idea, mapping out different cycling and walking routes around the city that can be enjoyed by all – whether you’re a seasoned road biker or still on training wheels.
The initiative has also had an astounding effect on mental health, getting those struggling some exercise and fresh air, as ecoBirmingham partners with Longbridge Mental Health, their weekly led ride: “Trying to encourage people who’ve had some really dark times.”
A successful future for ecoBirmingham
ecoBirmingham is already looking up, but what does the future hold? The staff all have different ideas. Hearing from families about their experiences. Growing food in their local community gardens – seedbeds, sharing, and a great environmental impact. A reduction in short journeys by car replaced by walking and biking, and of course mental and physical health benefits.
If we all work together, the health of the planet and the people on it will be improved. Esther says: “Just knowing that you’re making a positive impact on your own health, your own mental health, other people’s health, the health of the planet, and air pollution”, is what makes the biggest impact.