Together towards net zero: the benefits of working in a cohort

In this podcast series in partnership with UCL researchers and policy professionals from councils across England share their reflections on working together on the Net Zero Innovation Programme. It explores opportunities and challenges faced in partnering with those from different worlds to help achieve net zero emissions commitments.


In this episode we explore how the partnerships have approached working in a cohort, and how the network has benefitted their projects.

Two of our partnerships - the University of Worcester and Worcester City Council, and Essex University and Colchester Council - were asked to reflect on how the programmes network has helped them to develop their projects as well as sharing challenges and reflections. The partnership from Worcester explain how they have gained a number of new tools from speaking to other projects, while Colchester and Essex note how useful it has been to be able to call up other group members for advice.

Also joining are Ruth Corrall, Environmental Sustainability Officer at Worcester City Council, Katy Boom, Director of Sustainability at University of Worcester, Ben Plummer, Climate Emergency Project Officer at Colchester Borough Council, and Dr Jane Hindley, Deputy Director of Interdisciplinary Studies Centre at Essex University.

 
Transcript

Olivia Lancaster  00:03

Hello and welcome to the Local Government Association and UCL's Net Zero podcast series Together Towards Net Zero. I'm Olivia Lancaster, Advisor at the Local Government Association for our climate change improvement programme. This new podcast series aims to reflect on and share learnings from our recently launched net zero innovation programme, bringing together councils and universities. As you may be aware, many councils across the UK have declared a climate emergency. In this series we're focusing on stories from our net zero programme to help shine a light on how councils and universities can work together to co create solutions to meet Council's climate commitments. Each podcast brings together participants with expertise on the topic to explore the opportunities and challenges of the programme together. In this episode, we'll be discussing the benefits of being in a programme network and cohort.

 

Olivia Lancaster  00:49

The challenge of climate change can be quite daunting to try and address through the Net Zero programme we've encouraged our partnerships to share their learnings and experiences across the whole cohort to share the burden and come together as a team. We'll talk about how they found this, when I'll be catching up with partners from Worcester City Council, the University of Worcester Colchester Council, and Essex University. This series is funded by UCL Public Policy and brought to you by the LGA and UCL, connecting the work of research with the world of local government.

 

Olivia Lancaster  01:24

With me today are Ruth Corrall, Environmental Sustainability Officer at Worcester City Council, Katy Boom, Director of Sustainability at the University of Worcester, Ben Plummer, Climate Emergency Project Officer at Colchester Borough Council and Dr Jane Hindley, Deputy Director of Interdisciplinary Studies Centre at Essex University. Ruth and Katy I'd like to start with you. Can you tell me a bit about your expertise and why you were interested in joining our programme?

 

Katy Boom  01:50

Thanks Olivia. So my work kind of covers - I sum it up as saying campus community and curriculum so what that means is I work with all the staff and all the students around embedding sustainability on the campus. I work out in the community on religious exchange activities and for the curriculum side of things, I teach, but I also do research on all these different areas.

 

Olivia Lancaster  02:18

And Ruth, could you also introduce yourself and describe your project?

 

Ruth Corrall  02:21

Yes, of course. Hi - so I lead Worcester city council's sort of response to the climate and biodiversity emergencies. So they were declared, sort of in 2019 and then the biodiversity emergency last year, and we've been able to devise a strategy on sort of how to respond to those and working, particularly with stakeholders around the city recognising that, actually, there's only so much we can do ourselves as a city council, we need to work in partnership. So this project is one of those really good examples of how we can do that and how we can make changes across the city. So the Woo Bikes project is to run a pilot of an employer led E bike share scheme using off the shelf, E bikes that don't require any infrastructure so the batteries simply swap in and out, and can be charged in a building, rather than being charged within the unit of the bike itself. This means that it's quite a simple and fast to implement project, rather than one that requires a lot of kind of hard infrastructure within a business place. So we're purchasing a number of new E bikes and using some that the university have already got within their scheme, and also offering trailers and a dedicated E cargo bike for use by businesses as well to try on how to move around the city differently, and that'll be both for business travel, and for commuting as well.

 

Olivia Lancaster  04:33

 Great, thanks so much. So Jane and then I'm just gonna move on to you as well now. So Ben, could you tell me about your own expertise and why you're interested in joining the programme.

 

Ben Plummer  04:42

So hello everyone I'm Ben Plummer, Climate Emergency Officer at Colchester Borough Council. So my background is in environmental sciences, I studied an undergraduate and master's degree at the University of East Anglia. I'm quite interested in the social side of environmental science, sort of like the behaviour change around the environment, and that sort of thing. So yeah as I mentioned, Climate Emergency Officer at the council now, I saw the net zero innovation programme as an opportunity to build the collaboration with the University of Essex a lot more sort of acknowledging that they are a key partner within Colchester with a lot of expertise that can support the council's climate emergency response, And I also saw it as an opportunity to really develop like a real world project that would have an impact in Colchester, and with young people in schools.

 

Olivia Lancaster  05:33

And Jane, could you introduce yourself and describe your project, please?

 

Jane Hindley  05:37

I'm Jane Hindley, and I'm a lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at Essex University. So our project is aimed to reach beyond the choir so in Colchester so we've got quite a lot  people who are committed to environmental action. And then there's a whole set of people who haven't really been engaged. We though schools would be good as a way to reach parents, teachers and children who haven't necessarily had interest in environmental issues, and we're, what we're looking at is a sort of variation on primary schools in Colchester, and we're doing a particular specific pilot with one school to them helping embed action and education. So, in that project, we are looking at how to transform the grounds, they're doing around food, energy, waste, and growing, and there's one on travel. So we just finished the audit phase and we're going to start the activity phase.

 

Olivia Lancaster  06:40

Great that's really good to hear. I'm just going to move on to how, a kind of quickfire on how you've all found the programme up till now. So I'm just going to ask you each just a quick question about the programm and what we've been up to so far. So Ben, could I ask you what your assumptions were coming into the programme?

 

Ben Plummer  06:58

So, I think what I thought the programme would be like would be the LGA and UCL basically helping to facilitate a collaboration between the university and council and sort of start that process off, and help us to build that collaboration in the future sort of learn how to talk to an external organisation like the university. What he didn't quite realise was the, the number of meetings that we'd have kind of like, as the build up to the project that's kind of absorbed, ended up being a real positive because we ended up learning quite a lot of different things. If you sort of go from the start, where we learned about seven different insights related to collaborative climate action working, and they've been actually really useful in informing project design, going forward, so it's been really helpful. In my assumption in terms of helping us sort of collaborate between council and university and to facilitate the best ways to go about doing that.

 

Olivia Lancaster  07:57

Katy, how has it been working in a partnership?

 

Katy Boom  08:00

Well just building on what Ben was saying, I was particularly attracted to the whole kind of process because of the sandpit. I mean I love that element. It really does - it's very appealing it fits into my own personal learning style, and development. So, I took a huge amount from that. I absolutely enjoyed - it's a great pleasure working with colleagues at UCL, they've got some fantastic insights. I found that really refreshing and engaging and it reenergized me. And then the partnership side with Ruth. Ruth and I have a long history of working together and doing collaborative projects but not in a formal way. So this was just ideal - it was really excellent to get support from both organisations behind a project that - we kind of tinkered around on the edges - but this gave us permission to go in all guns blazing. So, absolutely super.

 

Olivia Lancaster  09:05

That's really great to hear. Ruth, how have you found the programme meetings I know Ben mentioned there were more than maybe you might have thought there would be at the beginning.

 

Ruth Corrall  09:14

That's the case, but actually they were really helpful. And the same as Ben and Katy have just said, actually, that sandpit process at the beginning - learning how to really understand, a challenge, and learning how to tackle it was really helpful, and certainly I found that there was so many sort of transferable skills that I learned through that that I'll be able to take forward for when we're looking at future challenges. So that's been really helpful. And again, actually, as we've moved into the phase of delivery. Then just listening to the other, the other projects and hearing from the other partners, as to how their projects are going and the challenges that they face. Again, the challenges and the projects they're doing are things we'll need to do in Worcester in time. So that's been really helpful to actually just hear what they're going through and how they're tackling it as well. So it's all been really helpful.

 

Olivia Lancaster  10:06

Great, and Jane, what have been your key takeaways, so far?

 

Jane Hindley  10:11

Lots of the things that other people have said so far. I found Kris's workshops on communication and action learning particularly helpful, because in a way they dovetailed with what I had been doing. And also, just hearing about the really interesting range of projects that other teams are doing. I think sometimes, and this is less now, but it has been - I think Katy was alluding to this - it has been quite a solitary endeavour, working on sustainability and trying to get things done. So I think, you know, just that whole ethos of sharing those experiences and actually the interesting kind of things, some of, some are quite technical, others are very practical. So, in a way, Katy and Ruth's project is you know it's a very practical project so that whole range of projects I think has been inspiring.

 

Olivia Lancaster  11:09

That's really great to hear. I'd now like to talk about your experience in working in the programme cohort so please do just kind of jump in with your thoughts on these but I kind of wanted to look at how you found the network and if it's been useful for your project development so far.

 

Katy Boom  11:26

The networking is just great, I mean as day as everybody's kind of said the opportunity to learn from others who are just tackling with exactly the same issues that you've been grappling with, and I hoover up other people's brilliant ideas, and even in just recording this podcast. It's fantastic. I've learned a new piece of software and I'm going to be stealing that - all the other techniques, the mural - all the other things I've absolutely hoovered up, and I'm now using myself in my research, and in my teaching so it's fantastic, you know, you're always gonna learn something new.

 

Ben Plummer  11:26

Perhaps to just build on what Katy said I echo everything I get like the, especially the sessions - this sort of calendar year in 2021 where we've started to deliver our projects a little bit more, be able to feedback progress - it's been great to hear how some of the projects have developed so far, and as Katy said, I'll be definitely looking to adopt - we're already adopting sort of ideas and concepts into our own project design, but afterwards, when all the projects are finalised, I'll be definitely looking for hoovering up, as Katy said, knowledge for our own use. There's lots of sort of expertise and knowledge sharing to be honest.

 

Ruth Corrall  12:34

I think it's also given an opportunity to get a kind of fresh look at your project that perhaps it's hard to get that view from internal to your organisation. So to be able to speak to people external and get that kind of view on "Oh, have you thought about doing something differently?" or sort of a different solution to a problem that's been another real benefit of working as a wider network.

 

Jane Hindley  13:16

Yeah and I think we've also benefited from input from Katy, and in addition to everything else everyone's said, but Katy's also been working in education and outreach in the community and with schools, and Jim Longhurst from the University of West of England. He was also in - and he's been doing a lot of work with in higher education and implementing Sustainable Development Goals so it's just been very interesting to have input from people with specific expertise as well as the more general learnings that we've benefited from.

 

Olivia Lancaster  13:49

Yeah, absolutely and I guess could each of you tell me what you think the biggest benefit of working in a cohort and wider network is?

 

Katy Boom  13:58

Well you get, you get to make friends, don't you, I mean it's as simple as that. And once you're friendly with somebody, then you're more forgiving and more supportive, and you know that once you've worked closely in an action learning set, then that's it you know that you can always pick up the phone or ping an email and go "Little bit of help needed here" or the other way - "Oh this is a glimmer of something - I bet Jane and Ben would fancy this idea". So that's the kind of thing that Jane is kind of hinting at. We love it. We love sharing.

 

Ben Plummer  14:30

As Katy has already said like having just being able to speak to other people and kind of like, share similar challenges and issues because the programme just because of the time it's been taking place in during sort of the COVID sort of context has put - made struggles - and but everyone's had struggles that are good, it's good to share those kinds of things - but I was gonna say he was having the sort of experience facilitators from the LGA and UCL to be able to bring the programme together, and run the meetings has been really useful. In terms of like how they flow, timekeeping and stuff like that, that's just been - definitely helped in terms of the knowledge sharing process, you will be able to get the collaborative sort of working in the programme support as it has done so I think that's been really good.

 

Jane Hindley  15:04

I think for the future, being aware of the other projects, because I've heard about projects I hadn't even thought about. I think that's really useful both for me and my teaching. So, contacting those people at a later date I think will be really - that opportunity will be really valuable, because we can learn from, you know what worked, what didn't work, I mean our project has got lots of things that we are learning from and I think it would, you know, we'd be really happy to share that with other people, not just in the report, but also in the follow up, discussions, if other people wants to do work with schools.

 

Ruth Corrall  16:01

And I would absolutely echo that the real benefit to me of the programme and hearing about other people's projects has been that sparking of ideas for future things that we need to do, and ways in which we can tackle those, those problems.

 

Katy Boom  16:16

I think Jane's got an excellent point about failure, we're always very good celebrating our successes, and we need to be more open with you know, what hasn't actually worked, and, you know, there's a friendly supportive group to be able to share the absolute, you know, disasters, as you know we've have a few of those along the way, always.

 

Olivia Lancaster  16:38

Absolutely, I suppose you've alluded to it but would you, would you keep in touch after the program's finished?

 

Ben Plummer  16:44

Yeah, I'd say so - really interesting project in a sort of, as Jane mentioned from the council side there's definitely, here's some final projects outputs so we'll definitely be some sort of networking with some of the people afterwards.

 

Jane Hindley  16:59

And I think my students would also find it very inspiring to have colleagues from other projects come and speak. I teach a module on entrepreneurs, sustainability and community action and design the project so I think they would find it really interesting to hear from, say Katy and Ruth about their projects, because a lot of them don't really know what's going on, because, you know their action on climate change has been so slow up to now. I think we're suddenly seeing a big explosion of interest in money and need government policies, although I don't think a lot of them are very effective. But at least this is really in the public domain now, and that I found with this module, it's quite an experimental module, but students really get inspired. So, having people come in to contribute to lectures and sessions will be really great actually.

 

Katy Boom  17:54

So Jane I've just heard you say that - and again in my teaching I invite experts into talk and I hadn't even thought until you just mentioned it. So there's me just now hoovering up another brand new idea so brilliant. Thanks, Jane.

 

Olivia Lancaster  18:09

Yeah - that's absolutely brilliant, and obviously keep us updated, if you do. So reflecting on the programme up till now, what is your one key takeaway message for university-council partnership working, so that it can be more effective?

 

Katy Boom  18:22

My one takeaway would be it's hard - don't underestimate how hard it is - any project will always be a journey. This has just been a, you know, a small part of a longer journey and collaborative working is hard. Don't underestimate it.

 

Jane Hindley  18:46

I think this has been a really particularly difficult year for collaboration because of communication, and not being able to meet face to face, and that's raised issues with all partners, but I think the big thing is to be patient and flexible, and to have the trust and confidence that you will get through any knots that appear, and that different organisations have structures and requirements and so on. It's very clear in our collaboration. It's good to understand those, but also to be patient about how long things may take and, but with that trust that things will come together.

 

Ben Plummer  19:29

Yeah, be, be very patient with it, it will be a lot more hard work than you think but the final project, given the type of collaboration you're getting between two different areas of expertise will ultimately produce some good results - so just be patient,

 

Katy Boom  19:44

Mine would be a very practical point, which relates to sort of particular restriction or barrier that Katy and I have had which kind of delayed us. And so the takeaway would be to have an overarching kind of legal agreement between the project partners so in this case between the university and the council to mean that funding could be shared more easily, and there was that legal basis for forking in partnership together.

 

Olivia Lancaster 20:12

That's really, really helpful. Thank you all. So finally, Ben and Jane, how will you continue the great work that you've begun in the programme in the future?

 

Ben Plummer  20:21

So, from the council side we're planning on taking the findings from the project about the challenges schools face embedding consideration about the environment into the school sort of practices and the curriculum, and we'll be sharing this with the council itself and also with Essex County council who are the authority responsible for education, to see the type of support we can offer schools going forward in relation to their challenges. And of course we'll also circulate any of the key learnings from the project with the other authorities and universities that are taking part in this programme but also more widely through the LGA networks and other local authority networks through that. In addition to the challenges will also be different to share the good practices from schools, in terms of the pilot school we're working with but also other schools we're hoping to do some interviews and focus groups with to share that good practice, amongst other schools Colchester and beyond. Because it's fine one school doing something really great - but you kind of want to help and facilitate other schools to do so. Case studies are quite powerful, because you've got that real world example there and someone's done it and you can find out how they've done it, and share that. And in terms of like me woking with Jane going forward, and the university, it's shown that we can do it, and the council's already working with the university a lot more on other projects so it's just sort of kick started a collaboration that will continue.

 

Jane Hindley  21:48

The university declared a climate emergency last December, and is expanding environmental action and environmental education and part of that will be volunteering projects for students, setting up more opportunities for volunteering around sustainability so one way to provide continuity to the pilot school will also be to set up a team of volunteers to go in and, and do gardening and growing, for example, but also the other contexts, we may be able to use those to develop a broader programme of students working with schools on embedding sustainability so those contents from the project will be really valuable.

 

Olivia Lancaster  22:35

Absolutely, Katy and Ruth, can I ask you the same question.

 

Katy Boom  22:39

We're avidly waiting for the Department of Transport to release the next tranche of funding. Well, the first tranche of funding really for decarbonizing transport for cities, because of, as we said, this is, ours is a novel approach to a city based bikeshare - we're developing it as a cheap as chips version, so you know it won't need the same kind of investment, because we're a small city, and there are lots of small cities tackling with the same kind of congestion, air quality, sustainable transport issues. So what we're hoping is we can use this as a demonstrator project that, you know, it's super transferable across the globe, even not even just in the UK. So we're hoping to get a smidge more funding to take our small pilot, and be able to expand it as a, as an employer led bike share. So, you know, which is different from leisure cycling and different from the, what the Combined Authority say just up the road from us in Birmingham and what happens in London.

 

Ruth Corrall  24:03

Yeah, so just as Katy said obviously we want to kind of extend it and continue with that programme and I think also the kind of formal basis on which we've worked together for this piece of work is something that certainly I would like to replicate in the future. As a city council as I've said, we recognise that the only way in which we can really tackle the climate challenge is to work in partnership with key stakeholders in the city and the university is absolutely sort of a key, key partner, and you know the students at the university are going to be going on to be future employers, and probably, you know, business owners as well in the city. So, how we work with the university is going to be so important going forward. And I think this project kind of giving us that formal basis working together, hopefully a really nice stepping stone for tackling future, future projects and challenges together.

Olivia Lancaster 24:58

Great. And thanks everybody for taking part, and for giving your insights today. You've been listening to Together Towards Net Zero. This episode was presented by myself, Olivia Lancaster, produced by UCL an LGA with support from UCL Public Policy, and it's said by Nathan Copelin. Our guests today, we're Katy Boom, Ruth Corrall, Jane Hindley, and Ben Plummer. To find out more about the Net Zero Innovation Programme, visit www.ucl.ac.uk/public-policy. If you would like to hear more podcasts from UCL, then head to ucl.ac.uk/ucl-minds/podcasts. Finally, to read more about the LGA's climate change programme, visit local.gov.uk/our-support/climate-change. Thanks for listening and I hope you will join us again next time.