On any given day driving along Jubilee Way on the way out of Loughborough, you will notice the magistrates court on your left, then, just after, the office of Jane Hunt, Loughborough’s MP. But on Friday morning every week, you will have a different sight, for in front of the Conservative MP’s office you will see a line of protesters, holding aloft signs reading “Honk for climate action”, “Warm homes not warm planet”, or “Keep carbon in the ground”.
The members of the Loughborough Climate Vigil (LCV) have been seen outside Hunt’s office every Friday for almost two years – the two year anniversary comes around in June this year. What started as a Christian Climate Vigil has expanded, welcoming environmentalists from all faiths and none, united in a desire for stronger climate action and carrying this message to their MP and the broader public. Central Bylines spoke to members of the vigil about why they do it.
The Christian origins of the LCV
The vigil was started in 2021 by the Loughborough activists affiliated with the national group Christian Climate Action – there were seven original members of the vigil, all Christian. Olivia Venning, from Loughborough, was a founding member and attended for a year; she now manages the vigil’s Facebook page, posting pictures from the vigil each week.
She said: “For me, individual changes only take us so far and it’s the high-powered politicians and businesses that must initiate radical change, and therefore my attention turned to our local MP, Jane Hunt. Together with a newly formed group of activists, affiliated with national movement Christian Climate Action, we decided to start the vigil.”
For some of the original members who continue to regularly attend the vigil, climate action and therefore the desire to turn out at the vigil are informed by their Christian beliefs. Helena Wilkinson, from Loughborough, has been attending the vigil since the beginning. “I felt, as part of my faith, I needed to be doing something more about the environment,” she said. “Climate change just impacts every facet of human life – justice, poverty …” – important Christian values.
Olivia said that the idea of the vigil stems from the religious practices of sitting still, quiet, waiting, praying, which the group thought reflected their varying feelings of grief, despair and hope. “Sometimes at the end of the vigils in the earlier days we would pack our signs away and stand together in silence or someone would read out a prayer or reflection to remind ourselves each week why we were there,” Olivia added.
An evolution towards secularism
Although started by Christians, founding members of the vigil always envisioned it as being open to those of any faith, or no faith at all. They always wanted more people to join, Helena said. Symbolically, the vigil dropped the word Christian from their title, becoming just Loughborough Climate Vigil, a mark of their desire to include everyone, regardless of faith.
Sean Kerslake, from Loughborough, has been attending the vigil since near the inception. His reasons for doing so are entirely secular: “Maintaining public awareness … of environmental issues,” he said. Sean attends weekly, occasionally with his dog Eddie.
Even Olivia, who cited “the life and teachings of Jesus” as being behind her desire to pursue justice for people and planet, sees inspiration in similar places, such as the work of non-religious environmentalists like Greta Thunberg.
Julian Rees, from Loughborough, joined the vigil about 18 months ago because he was tired of sitting around talking about sustainability and wanted to take action. A Quaker, he sees the Quaker idea of ‘simple living’ as being key in the lifestyle changes necessary to combat climate change.
In terms of engaging the public, Julian stressed the importance of persistence: “A lot of people who drive past are going to work and they’re coming past every week, and I think they see a bunch of people and at first they might think, ‘they’re just nutters, why don’t they go away’, but as they see us week after week, in the snow, in the ice, in the rain, they start to think that maybe these people have a point.” You have to stand up for something if you believe in it, he added, and if you don’t, if you walk away, it sends the message that you weren’t that committed after all.
There is very much a mixed response from passers-by – lots honk in support, but there are also rude shouts or gestures. Because the vast majority of passers-by are in cars, it is very hard to have a dialogue and have any interaction more constructive than an indication of support or opposition from them as they drive by. This is partly why there are ideas to engage pedestrians and therefore engage more constructively with people.