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How to lobby for change from the grassroots

For ACAN’s last event of 2020, we met to discuss political lobbying with Sian Berry, Emma Dent Coad, and CEE Bill reps Alex Bradbury and Nessy Matos


To date, architects have shown a distinct lack of engagement in the political sphere. Along with other climate activism organisations, we at ACAN have realised that in order affect change, we need to affect politics, policy, and regulation. That means engaging our politicians in conversation and lobbying.

As a grassroots organisation working towards a radical shift in the way we build our cities, how can we effectively create the change we want to see at Government level? How do we engage well with politics?

In our last open meeting of 2020, we heard from experts who are working to shape our cities through campaigns and lobbying:

Sian Berry, Co-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, housing expert and London Assembly member and Emma Dent Coad, Kensington and Chelsea Borough Councillor, Former Labour Party MP for Kensington.

Here are some key quotes and pieces of advice for lobbying from the discussion:

“Statistics plus outrage” – Emma Dent Coad

  • The facts are hugely powerful, and so is the passion that you will bring to those campaigns. That’s always my combination: statistics plus outrage. You need the facts and the passion behind them.

“It’s no use playing whac-a-mole with bad things” – Sian Berry

  • We have to be strategic about trying to fix the rules. Embodied carbon is one of the big gaps in policy. Everybody has talked about operational carbon for such a long time, and what I like to call ‘stuff turnover’, the resources in our economy, weren’t talked about, but it’s coming. This is an area of policy that I think is moving really quickly. When I was elected to the London Assembly in 2016, with this as one of my goals – get more attention paid to embodied carbon.

“Bear in mind how busy people are and bring information to them in an easily digestible form.” – Emma Dent Coad

  • In Parliament there is a massive lack of expertise. When I was in Parliament I was one of the few people who actually understood how buildings are made. You talk to many of the Tory MPs about buildings and they talk about beauty – they just don’t have a clue how safe buildings should be made. To anybody who is going to set up a campaign and lobby, whether its to your council, assembly members, MPs, or anybody at any level – know your information, know it inside out. Get a really good summary and top lines, then facts, facts, facts – that people can take in. So someone who is insanely busy can look at in and say, that’s good. If you come along with a big block of text, anybody who is busy will say oh I’ll read that tomorrow – they won’t. Bear in mind how busy people are and bring that information to them in a very easily digestible form.

“Politicians need help” – Sian Berry

  • Politicians need help from the campaigners in deciphering all of this. They need help from the experts, who are the professionals – to go look, and point at what is wrong. Between non-transparency and the technical terms, there are enormous stakes. The more we can all work together to break this open, make it legible, show the problems, the more we are likely to generate the outrage and help people to win.

“Snowball it” – Emma Dent Coad

  • You have to have a route map, and find allies, but you have to keep pushing. If it goes quiet, you need protest, you need direct action, you need something big.

“Policy makers need to be given the ideas” – Sian Berry

  • We are not sitting there all day writing policy, we just make the decisions. And when decisions are made, we need to be able to choose things that are presented to us by people we trust.

From the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill Alliance, we were joined by Alex Bradbury and Nessy Matos, both co-ordinators who are central to the campaign. The bill has been tabled and is gaining momentum. Here are some of their lobbying tips from the experience so far:

“Find broad and unlikely alliances – unlikely as possible really.” – Alex Bradbury

  • Now we have got our foot in the door in Parliament [with the CEE Bill], the campaign has changed tack and broadened. It’s super important that XR made this happen, but we won’t get much further if we don’t have other organisations getting behind us as well. Businesses like Body Shop, NGOs like Greenpeace have joined, so that’s one important step. The next one is the grassroots side. This is where the campaign will succeed or fail. When it comes down to it, this is based around a system of representative democracy. MPs will act on what the constituents say, so when we are talking about ‘grassroots’ we are really talking about constituents here. We need to find broad and unlikely alliances – we want to get them as unlikely as possible. Because ‘unlikely’ means broad politically. We are not just talking about NGOs or environmental groups, we are talking Trade Unions, the Scouts, the WI – we really need broad based societal support in order for this to get through.

“The rational brain is quite cold and objective” – Nessy Matos

  • Local citizens assemblies are amazing hubs where people across the societal spectrum meet and share local concerns. They are a great opportunity for structural learning and empathy – there’s an exchange of ideas. The Transition Town is a good example, where the community joins to set up a vision of what an area could be like with more green space, and a more eco-friendly environment. It captures the imagination because psychologically it’s much more important to get an emotive sense [of climate change goals], instead of a rational sense. The rational brain is quite cold and objective.


Speaker bios

Sian Berry

Co-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, housing expert and London Assembly member. A bridge between politics and the community, Berry has recently drawn attention to topics such as shared ownership, air pollution, and planning policy at national and council level.

Emma Dent Coad

Kensington and Chelsea Borough Councillor, Former Labour Party MP for Kensington, architectural historian and avid follower of architectural issues. A campaigner with experience across the spectrum of activism, Dent Coad is committed to housing safety issues and a watchdog to the Grenfell enquiry.

Alex Bradbury

Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill Alliance, Grassroots co-ordinator. Bradbury has been part of Extinction Rebellion since April 2019, primarily as a member of the Citizens' Assembly Working Group, where he has helped research and promote ideas around deliberative democracy.

Nessy Matos

Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill Alliance, Member and Co-ordinator working on the curation and content of the CEE Bill on the expert advice of a set of distinguished scientists, economists academics and lawyers. She is now primarily coordinating their Research and COP26 international working groups.

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