Building a local alliance

Building a local alliance

Have you received a standard response from your MP?

The Climate and Nature Bill is about everyone. Because everyone is affected by this emergency. The campaign only makes sense – and will only be successful – if a broad cross-section of society is behind it. So, on the one hand, we want to gain the support of a wide range of organisations by making the case for the Bill. On the other hand, the campaign must learn and grow with each new group that comes on board. And we want to provide a platform to champion the shared concerns of allied organisations and movements.

Broad support convinces MPs

With these aims in mind, CAN Bill campaigners are setting up local alliances in support of the Bill across the UK. Read on to find out how you can join one, or how to set up your own. These alliances not only allow campaigners to pool resources but are essential in increasing pressure on local MPs. Because MPs are much more likely to come on board if they understand that it isn’t just scientists and environmentalists who want to see Bill made law. We must show them that their support base also backs the Bill. For a Labour MP, for instance, this might include workers’ associations or students’ unions. For a Conservative, it might be farmers’ groups or the local Townswomen’s Guild. (Of course, the political views of these organisations’ members are not so binary. But you get the idea!)

Join a local alliance

CAN Bill alliances are beginning to pop up all over the shop. You can see where the existing local alliances are on this map. Click on the pin to get their contact details and access their webpage/social media. Some of these alliances are explicitly integrated into the campaign and are called “CAN Bill Alliance Oxfordshire” or similar. Others have a broader mandate and are working on a number of priorities alongside the CAN Bill; these include groups such as Climate Action Nottingham and Sustainable Hackney. If you’re in a group working on the CAN Bill campaign and you’re not on the map yet, be sure to add yourselves!

Start your own local alliance

If you can’t see an alliance in your area on our map, why not start one? One way is to build out from an organisation you are a member of that is already working on the Bill campaign, e.g. a faith group, a Transition Town or an Extinction Rebellion local group. You could suggest to your group that you reach out to different organisations and start to build a campaign together. Another way to build an alliance is to get together with other individual campaigners, form yourselves into a group and reach out to local organisations from there. Get in touch with us at [email protected], and we can do a call-out to other campaigners in your constituency.

Find out more at a local campaign kickstarter workshop

If you need more advice on setting up a local alliance, you can request a local campaign online kickstarter workshop from the central Bill team. Drop an email to [email protected].

Who to reach out to

Obvious first ports of call for your local alliance will be local chapters of environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace, or wildlife organisations such as local nature reserves and parks. But there are many organisations that we might not think to approach initially: local businesses, farms, restaurants, shops, food banks, energy companies, schools and colleges, faith organisations, social and racial justice campaign groups… Campaigners in Devon even received support from a bakery, a holiday company and a funeral parlour. You might also like to contact local prominent figures to gain their support: ask yourself who is someone in your community that people listen to? To get some more ideas, see this list of the types of organisations that you could approach.

How big should you go?

It might make sense for you to build a small alliance to begin with, just within your constituency. Once that’s established, you can think about connecting up with campaigners in neighbouring constituencies. But sometimes two or more constituencies are so closely related in terms of local communities, infrastructure and local government that you may be better off connecting up from the start. This is often the case in towns and cities. There’s no right or wrong about this! Do what works for you. And you can always adjust as you go.

How to reach out

Invite people to join in with a campaign activity

You’ll often find it easier to get organisations and individuals on board with the campaign if you have a specific “ask”. For instance, you might want to begin by organising a film screening, coffee morning or panel event on the Bill, and asking different organisations to support this. (See below for more on different levels of support, and events.)

Meet in person

At the time of writing, it’s difficult to talk to people face to face due the Coronavirus pandemic. But whenever you can, try to meet people in person. They are much more likely to take in what you have to say. You can always follow up on your conversation with an email.

Poster campaigns

Another way to reach people is to distribute posters about the Bill to people’s houses. This has the dual effect of asking the readers to write to their MP, and they can also put them up in their windows to encourage others to write as well. CAN Bill Alliance Bristol used this method. After delivering thousands of posters to homes and businesses over several weeks, they estimated that around 2% of recipients displayed the poster.

Different levels of support

Many organisations and individuals you contact will be behind the campaign but won’t have a lot of time on their hands. So make it clear from the start that they don’t have to get actively involved in the campaign in order to make a contribution. They can help enormously just by publicly stating their support. For those that do have time and resources available, there are loads of ways to participate, such as helping run an event or a local media push. See this document for more on the levels of support from allied organisations. In the final part of this section, we go into more detail on some of the activities that your allies can participate in.

Mutual support and learning

Just as with family and friends, it is important to be open-minded in approaching local organisations. Often they will have their own priorities and concerns. While many will be aware of the gravity of the climate and ecological emergency, they may have more immediate challenges. It’s important to remain open to dialogue and seek ways to support each other rather than attempting to impose our campaign on people. The central Bill team is working on an outreach project at the national level where we are seeking links with grassroots organisations, faith groups, and social and racial justice campaigns. As part of this, we are offering workshops where we explore common goals and aims. This is one way we hope to learn and grow as an alliance, while contributing to the work of other campaigns and organisations. If you’re interested in taking a similar approach at local level, you might like to take a look at our template letter for approaching grassroots allies.

Campaign activities for alliances

Are petitions a good idea?

Petitions are just one tool in our campaign tool belt. We tend to jump on them as a quick and easy method to generate big numbers of supporters. Unfortunately, used in isolation, they are not that effective – 100 individual letters is much more impactful than 100 signatures. That said, petitions can be a useful springboard for further activities. So if you do one, it’s important to get permission from the signatories to contact them about future campaign actions. That way, you have a ready-made mailing list, which is bound to include some people who are eager to get more involved. Another use for petitions is as a conversation starter: they are a great way in to talking to people about the climate and ecological emergency and sharing views. This also works online: be sure to include an easy-to-understand summary of the Bill in your online petition. Better still: include a link to a short film such as this one.

Organise a discussion event

An event is a great way to get people talking about the content of the Bill, raise the profile of the campaign, grow your alliance and apply pressure on your MP. This is especially the case if you get your MP to attend the event!

What format?

One approach is to invite your MP to chair a roundtable of local community groups. Or you could hold a panel event, with several guests including your MP (or several local MPs), and perhaps a local business owner, a scientist, a youth climate striker or a local councillor. Aim for a diverse range of people and interests. At the time of writing, all these events will be online. Even after the pandemic, consider a mix of online and in-person events. While the latter offer many advantages in terms of informal exchanges – and, of course, most people find them more fun – the former are generally easier to put on, and you can involve people from further afield. See this webpage for more guidance on running on online event, including which platform to use and how to promote it.

What to focus on?

Depending on your MP’s feelings about the Bill, it can be an idea not to focus on the CAN Bill as the only topic for discussion. Choose a specific issue of local interest (e.g. retrofitting, peatbog restoration, flooding, community energy projects or inner city pollution) or focus on climate justice and the emergency more generally. You should still bring up the CAN Bill during the meeting and ask whether your MP will back it.

Who to invite and who to tell?

The suggested list of groups to invite to your event is the same one as for your local alliance itself, i.e. as broad a cross-section of your constituency as you can manage. As we keep saying, everyone is affected and everyone should be heard. In addition, be sure to invite local councillors. We in the central Bill team can provide advice and connect you up with other local CAN Bill alliances that have held events (such as those listed in the next paragraph). If you like, one of us could also speak at the event. But, as constituents, it’s even more powerful if you make the case for the Bill to your MP. Advertise the event on social media as well as in the newsletters and on the websites of the members of your alliance. And make sure you tell the local press in order to create a splash beyond the event itself. Here is a sample press release produced by the CAN Bill Alliance Oxfordshire.

Get some inspiration from previous CAN Bill events

Here are some examples of events so far on the Bill:

  • CAN Bill campaigners in the Brighton area ran an online Q&A with three local MPs in November 2020. Two of the MPs already supported the CAN Bill, while one was yet to come on board. We loved this outside-the-box way to hold an MP’s feet to the fire. The facilitation was also impressive: the organisers made sure they put a representative sample of questions from viewers to the MPs, and to keep things fair they put a strict time limit on the Building a local CAN Bill alliance answers given by panellists. Watch the video here: MPs’ Q&A – The Climate Emergency in Brighton, Hove & Portslade
  • CAN Bill Alliance Oxfordshire used their event to launch their alliance. They approached organisations, spelling out ways in which they could get involved: speaking at the event, putting their logo on the Zoom background, providing technical support, etc. They made sure all constituencies in Oxfordshire were represented in the group. And they organised themselves into working groups on alliance building, panel, media, etc. Watch the video here: Can the UK Lead on Climate Change: The CAN Bill and Our Future

Write an open letter

Your local alliance could write an open letter to your MP asking them to support the Bill. As signing a letter is a relatively low bar of engagement, you can also approach groups and individuals who are not in your alliance to sign it. Be sure to use language and make points in your letter that will appeal not only to your MP but also to potential signatories. For instance, if your MP is Conservative, it’s a good idea to approach “small C” conservative organisations. And you’ll want to write the letter in a way that they can identify with. See this example of an open letter from South Hams Climate Action Network that you can draw from.

Send it with the list of signatories both to your MP and simultaneously to the local press. A few weeks before you send it to the press, contact the newspaper office and let them know what you are planning so they can schedule it in.


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