How UpRising taught me all I needed to know to be a Green Leader

How UpRising taught me all I needed to know to be a Green Leader

July 29, 2019

Having recently graduated from UpRising’s Environmental Leadership Programme I have had some time to reflect on the past 10 months and everything I have learnt, the experience gained, and relationships established, as well as a more rounded outlook on environmental issues. Coming into the programme I was hoping to make a few friends, understand more about the environmental sector and hopefully run a successful campaign. While there were ups and downs throughout the year the whole experience far exceeded my expectations and looking back to October 2018, I can see how much I have personally developed, especially in areas I hadn't anticipated. 


The programme is fundamentally based on getting young people (18-25) to engage in environmental affairs and is ultimately achieved through the formation of campaign groups that are focused on tackling issues in their local community. A variety of topics were addressed in our cohort including; sustainability, the promotion of green spaces, environmental education, and ethical consumption practices. We concluded on these areas after three months of hearing from an eclectic mix of some truly inspirational guest speakers ranging from politicians to NGOs, charities to entrepreneurs, and numerous other organisations. 


Everyone in my group were passionate about sustainability and recycling and had decided to rally behind the concept of helping to promote a cleaner, less polluted Birmingham.


After a week or two of brainstorming and sharing ideas we eventually settled on a topic we could all get behind and decided to support an upcoming festival at the University of Birmingham. We saw it as an excellent opportunity to capitalise on the ongoing trend of reduced plastic consumption and generating minimal waste by reaching out to an audience of over 5000 people. The next few months raced by as we began laying preparations for the festival. However, it wasn't all smooth sailing, along the way we encountered obstacles that could have potentially derailed the entire campaign but as a team, and with the support of our programme coordinator, we managed to overcome these issues. Not even the inevitable downpour at a British festival was enough to ruin the day with the event being a complete success. We were thrilled to have our ideas and suggestions implemented by the organisers, we are also confident that a precedent has now been set for how this annual festival is conducted in the future. 


Throughout the programme we were provided with invaluable insights into the environmental sector through open discussions with groups such as The Wildlife Trust, Friends of the Earth, Eco Birmingham and many more. These talks proved both informative and motivational especially when we began thinking about what our campaigns might be focused on. At the end of every fortnightly meeting I found the chance for Q&A sessions with these organisations to be thoroughly useful, not only for a greater understanding of a particular topic but in identifying different career opportunities available in the environmental sector. 


Understanding how to enact change at a political level was another personal highlight for me especially when we had the opportunity to visit the Houses of Parliament to speak with MP's and civil servants. Often, when exposed to the gloomy predictions on the climate and the state of our planet it is easy to get overwhelmed and ponder what meaningful impact we can realistically make. However, speaking with the politicians and civil servants it became apparent that one way to make a tangible difference in environmental affairs - and broader society too - is by engaging with local politics. Although there are many who seem ignorant of environmental issues and the crisis facing us all, there are still people who work in politics who care about making a positive difference in society and getting the chance to meet these people inspired genuine belief that we can affect real change.


Engagement in politics can be as simple as voting for parties that place environmental change foremost on their agenda or writing to your local MP to raise awareness of certain issues.


Voting collectively for those who support green policy has the potential to bring about significant change in a relatively short amount of time. While engaging with local politics is seen to be the most effective form of bringing about social change one should also consider personal responsibility. Slight changes in our behaviour and attitude may seem redundant especially when compared to some of the devastating activities of negligent corporations and governments.  You may find yourself asking the same question; “what impact can I really make?”. It is said that only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, making campaigns like the introduction of the ultra-low emission zone in London seem paltry. On top of this, encouraging behavioural change on a national level is by no means easy and the difficulty of the task is compounded by the level of change that would be required in the timescale that has been proposed by the UN climate report. However, individual changes in how we consume goods and resources as well as the sustainable disposal of our waste would exponentially reduce our carbon footprint if applied on a mass scale. Additionally, environmental degradation goes beyond a warming planet and melting ice caps. The Blue Planet documentary played a huge role in bringing our attention to other issues such as the plight of plastic in our oceans, bringing new meaning to campaigns like the introduction of paper straws.


I think this is where programmes such as UpRising are crucial. Giving a platform, the tools, and knowledge to young people and future generations to voice their ideas and opinions is an important step in the right direction, the success that Greta Thunberg has experienced is testament to this.


An amalgam of public desire for change and political support is the only meaningful way forward. Society needs to apply sustained pressure on governments to keep the climate crisis a top priority, and governments need to live up to promises in addressing these issues. Protests, marches, strikes and contacting MPs are all effective measures to ensure that public opinion is heard. Equally, UpRising presents an opportunity to get started in activism in a positive manner by joining with likeminded individuals of similar age to discuss and organise targeted campaigns at local level. That being said, it would be wrong to assume that all participants on the programme are your archetypal tree hugging hippy. The pluralism of the course is what makes UpRising so special. It is a place where regardless of your social background, education, race or sexuality, or even your political leanings, you are always made to feel welcome and valued. This level of diversity means you are constantly exposed to new concepts and ideas that you might not have experienced previously. I personally feel I have learned so much from my fellow UpRisers and guest speakers. For example, the charity ‘Footsteps’ acknowledges the presence that faith communities hold in Birmingham and works with them to highlight how members of their congregation can do their part to take action towards a low carbon future. 

As well as there being an emphasis on environmental affairs the programme also propagates the skills needed to excel in future careers, most notably leadership and teamwork. The chance to expand your own personal network is something that is encouraged right from the start and carries on throughout the programme as you get the chance to meet new people from a variety of backgrounds. 

The programme proved to be more than just another extra-curricular activity. I found the whole experience to be invaluable and I cannot recommend UpRising enough for those who are passionate about environmental change.



Written by Jonah Kelly, Birmingham Environmental Leadership Programme Graduate, 2018/19


UpRising's Environmental Leadership Programme is graciously funded by Our Bright Future