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Totnes Declares a Climate & Ecological Emergency – What Next?

In July Encounters declared a Climate and Ecological emergency, in follow up to our declaration this summer we have supported events across the country from helping to facilitate the Culture Declares Emergency Assembly at the Round House, London, to supporting and facilitating in our hometown at Totnes Declares A Climate Emergency, What Next? A Community Conversation.


In the final months of 2018, Totnes Town Council declared a Climate Emergency. In February 2019 Devon County Council followed suite, pledging carbon neutrality by 2050. The UK parliament declared an environment and climate emergency in May 2019.

But what next? How do we turn declarations and pledges into action? 

On July 13th in Totnes, Encounters co-facilitated an event to explore how best we can collectively respond to local governments' ‘climate emergency’ declarations. 

The day brought together over 150 people including local councillors, Sarah Wollaston MP and representatives from a wide range of community groups and organisations.

The event ran from 10am till 5pm and culminated in the compilation of a "Peoples’ Climate and Ecological Emergency Plan for Totnes" co-authored by attendees to the day. 

'Stand Up If...' We asked people to stand up if they were from different places – “Bridgetown”, “the centre of town”, “outlying villages”, “further afield” 

Download a detailed account to inspire you to hold your own event in response to the Climate and Ecological Emergency here , if you would like support with the design and facilitation of your event get in touch via admin@encounters-arts.org.uk.

“Let us take a moment, this moment, to consider why we are here. Let’s recall our love for the whole of humanity, in all corners of the world.  Let’s remember our love for our beautiful planet that feeds, nourishes and sustains all life.  Let’s recollect our sincere desire to protect and restore all this, for now and for generations to come. As we meet today, may we find the courage to bring this sense of peace and appreciation to everyone we encounter, to every word we speak and to every action we make in this emergency. Together. Rooted in love. We are all we need and we act as if we are needed  Let us take a moment of silence…

An opening reading by Anna Lopez, one of our local school strikers.

The format of the day allowed individuals to connect with others in their community, strengthening new collective narratives, and sensitively giving voice to the strong emotions which often make honest conversations about Climate Change difficult.

The local town, district and county councils declared a climate emergency earlier this year and are in the process of assessing what this means in practice. Against this backdrop, the purpose of the event was to convene a community conversation to begin the process of fleshing out what an appropriate response to the emergency might look like.

The day was facilitated by Encounters Ruth Ben-Tovim and Rob Hopkins from Transition Network, supported by Encounters Jenny Gellatly and Rob Shorter.

The Event was co-presented by Encounters Arts, Transition Town Totnes, Extinction Rebellion Totnes & Area, Totnes Town Council, Caring Town Totnes, Bridgetown Alive!, Fridays for Future and others. There were even people there from Southampton, Paris and California to find out how one might run such an event!

The morning was an opportunity to hear presentations about the Climate and Ecological Crisis from a range of different experts or "provocateurs", interspersed with group reflection, leading towards the generation of discussion themes relating to climate change action, which the attendees felt they wanted to explore further. 


The facilitators condensed discussion suggestions into 15 key themes for the afternoon, such as transport, food, the role of technology, water, the role of governments, diversity and inclusion, deepening democracy, ownership of resources, welcoming and integrating uprooted people, wildlife and biodiversity and more.

The nominated topics were sorted into 15 clusters of themes which facilitators then guided groups through in the afternoon, resulting in each group producing ideas for action on their theme which were then collated into a large scale physical book at the end of the day.

The process of collectively producing a wide ranging Climate and Ecological Emergency Plan within one day helped to empower community members and to increase confidence in the ability of the community to move forward together in the face of a complex challenge. There was a palpable sense of achievement and hope by the end of the day.   The council, many of whom were in attendance, as well as the local MP,  and groups from within the town, are now using the plan produced on the day as a starting point for more nuanced plans, firmly grounded in the legitimacy of a peoples’ assembly.

“attending the community meeting was really helpful in hearing directly about the local priorities for tackling the climate emergency.” 

Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes and chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee who attended the day. 

The Milling exercise.

“We don’t need your congratulations we need your support” 

Anna Lopez of Fridays for Future

Anna Lopez of Fridays for Future, one of the ‘provocateurs’ who spoke to the assembly.

Saif Ali of Integr8, who talked about the experience of uprooted peoples in the world, and how society needs to nurture its capacity for compassion. 

Ash Ghadiali, co-editor of Red Pepper magazine who spoke on the day about the experience of people of colour and that in many places in the world the situation has felt acute and like an emergency for a long time. 

Tables of objects which people chose from as prompts to discuss in pairs how it feels to be living at a time of climate and ecological emergency. 

Robin Webster, Senior Climate Change Engagement Strategist at Climate Outreach talked about the realities of the climate science.

“If we do everything we can possibly do in the next 11 years to respond to the climate emergency, working together locally and thinking globally, if we threw all the resources, imagination, courage and political will at it, what could we create?”

The question a second round of provocations explored.

Dr. Alice Moseley of Exeter University, who gave a taste, from 2030, of how democracy might be re-imagined in this country, with citizens assemblies, deliberative democracy and proportional representation.

Harriet Bell of Dartington Hall Trust, who spoke about the changes needed in food, farming and land use in the next 10 years.

Toni Spencer spoke about our collective denial, the crisis of separation from the natural world and the need to let go of the systems and habits that have brought the crisis about and the internal challenge of this. 

“Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future somebody will have to say, “There lived a race of people a black people … a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization.” And we’re gonna do that. God grant that we will do it before it is too late. As we proceed with our program let us think of these things”.

Co-facilitator Rob Hopkins, of Transition Network, opened the afternoon by reading a beautiful passage from a speech by Martin Luther King in 1955, shortly after the arrest of Rosa Parks. what is known as the ‘Montgomery Bus Boycott speech’

Discussion facilitators with their themes for the ensuing discussions.

People at tables discussing the theme they had chosen to participate in.

The assembled "People's Climate and Ecological Plan for Totnes" - A compilation of the work which groups did in the afternoon. The finished book was greeted by applause and cheering by the assembly.

Facilitators of the day, Jenny and Ruth of Encounters and Rob Hopkins of Transition Network

The day finished with the bar opening and music from local young musicians Kuki and the Bard, Lily and Booshka.


"For me, the design of the day worked really well. It created a safe space at the beginning which allowed us to sit with the despair and the hopelessness of the situation, and then moved into the ‘what if’ space, of what might actually be possible if we decide that that’s what needs to happen and act upon it. 

I have rarely been to events that straddle that polarity, that sit in all places along that spectrum. It was deeply moving, spoke from the heart, told the truth, while also being deeply purposeful and intentional about where we want to go next. It was also very playful, with the big book, the choosing of objects. It was also very connecting, with lots of conversations with people many of whom may have been strangers before the event."

Rob Hopkins, Transition Network

You can download a more detailed report on the day here.

It is intended to give a sense of what happened on the day and as a freely given guide to inspire others to hold similar Climate Emergency What next? events

Do get in touch and share how it goes for you if you use this guide to run an event.

If you would like support with the design and facilitation of any similar event Encounters, who have an experienced facilitation team are available to be commissioned to work with you and can travel across Europe (by train!).

Please email admin@encounters-arts.org.uk 

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