Fossil Free Southwark’s first members met one another in February 2015 underneath the letter ‘N’ whilst spelling out the words ‘Divest London’ in front of Tower Bridge as part of a Global Divestment Day event calling on City Hall to take its money out of fossil fuels. Someone had worked out that Southwark Council had several million pounds invested in fossil fuels so we decided to try and do something about it.
Our first step was to arrange a film screening of the 350.org film ‘Do the Math’ at Peckham’s Bussey Building, to which lots of people came, and the group’s numbers swelled. Here’s the photo we took at the end:
Next we started building links with different community groups and active folks in the borough including environmental groups, unions, and faith groups. We also started conversations with a number of local business-people, and made early contact with councillors. Most of all though we started collecting petitions…
And more petitions…
And still more petitions…
…Until we thought it was about time we speak to some politicians. So we went along to events like the Council Assembly and Cabinet Question time to ask questions about the Council’s investments in tar sands.
At another environmental discussion event local MP Helen Hayes pledged her support for our cause. Fellow Southwark MP Neil Coyle’s endorsement came soon afterwards as did the support of the Southwark opposition leader Anood Al-Samerai. Our groundwork done, we had our first meeting with Council decision-makers.
We had hoped to run a stall in the entrance hall of Southwark Council’s offices encouraging workers to fill out a consultation about ethics that the Pensions Panel had arranged, but unfortunately the Council didn’t let us. Happily though, as it turned out we didn’t need to anyway, as the majority of respondents to the survey said they wanted their pensions invested in renewable energy.
Maintaining the momentum, and not forgetting where we started out, we rejoined with our Divest London friends at the beginning of 2016 with a sea-shanty/flooding themed event at City Hall, and celebrated a short while later when all four leading candidates for Mayor of London committed to work to phase out London-wide fossil fuel investments. That strengthened our resolve to get Southwark doing likewise.
Impatient for change on the local level we wanted to publicly make the case about the poor performance of fossil fuels compared to renewables, which we did with some oversize money and a coal scuttle…
This was followed up with a joint letter to the editor of our local newspaper making the moral and financial case from prominent backers including Vicar Giles Goddard, human rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell and Southwark Law Centre Chair Sally Causer.
Continuing the theme of scaling up and learning from what we’d done 2015, we started preparing for the (now annual) Dulwich and West Norwood constituency climate change event, by making and bringing with us this time a giant hand drawing a ‘red line’ representing the fossil fuels that must stay in the ground. To our delight, fellow speaker Shadow Climate Change Minister Alan Whitehead took the opportunity to state his support for the divestment cause and agreed to be photographed next to our giant hand.
After all this effort we felt that the time was approaching to hand in our petition. Having learnt that our (nearly 1000) signatures entitled us to five minutes in which to make our case to the Council Cabinet. We agreed to allot a minute each to our youngest member, our oldest member, a union member (both Southwark Council’s unions voted unanimously to back divestment), and to a quote from a first nations person suffering tar sands at the front line. The final minute we dedicated to making our ask. We also made another pencil as the original one wouldn’t fit on the bus.
We made our representations and awaited the response with bated breath. The Cabinet member responsible replied that she was happy to be able to announce that, recognising the growing financial risks associated with fossil fuels, the Council would commit to transferring over time any current investments in these ‘traditional’ energy sources. When we clarified whether this amounted to a commitment to fossil fuel divestment announcement and she replied ‘yes’ and there was suddenly lots of clapping.
The youngest member of the group handed over our petition, having explained that when she grows up she would like to work for the government so she help people reduce fossil fuels. The Council Leader replied that he was sure that she would.
The campaign now continues to turn these principles into practice. Please do join us as we work with the council through the process of moving 60 million pounds from fossil fuels to renewables, and speed the transition to a low carbon economy.