Established in 2001 in the Riverside area of Cardiff, Women Connect First is an independent resource centre for ethnic minority women, which provides a wide range of services and support.
Like many organisations, they wish to balance providing a comprehensive and useful service to their beneficiaries with minimising their impact on the environment and responding to climate change. What makes this organisation different to most is that amongst the women they work with are some who have fled from countries affected by climate change, making this a very real issue for them.
Ismat came from from Bangladesh in 2002 and says,
“The weather was changing; all the seasons were raining now. So it is more and more frequent to have floods, which destroy our lands. The weather has changed and now we can only grow winter fruits and vegetables. Many people are leaving the country or changing their jobs for some industry as the work in the field is becoming more complicated to do.”
And Dalia from Egypt says about climate change “…It increased the pollution, raise the temperature.”
Many of the women were brought up in their own countries lacking basic resources, generating a culture of not wasting anything- using things up and recycling them in all areas of life – food, clothing, furniture and so on.
The group initially approached Renew Wales’ local coordinator for support in 2018. They wanted to improve the energy efficiency of their building and were also interested in getting support to take steps that could save energy, water and waste. They were particularly keen to look at food sustainability as an issue and aware of the role they had in educating, informing and encouraging their members to act more sustainably in their daily lives. In addition, as many other community groups use WCF’s building, they had good opportunities to inform and encourage those groups too.
So a Renew Wales mentor carried out building and energy audit and compiled a report for them. The main recommendations were to regulate and manage the heating system, replacing some older radiators, and to replace lighting. While these are measures that could in theory be implemented and reduce energy costs relatively quickly, they did not have the funds at that time to do it.
At the same time WCF re-visited their policies and internal practices around issues such as recycling and use of disposables. Whilst attitudes, and more importantly habits, were sometimes hard to change, they have made good progress in these areas. They are also exploring several other strategies to improve their environmental sustainability, such as striving to be plastic-free, composting organic waste, encouraging meat-free days amongst staff and volunteers – and they have begun work towards achieving a Green Dragon award (an environmental standard awarded to organisations who are taking action and monitoring their environmental impact.)
In 2019 Women Connect First participated in a pilot scheme for National Lottery Community Fund grantees, which gave them access to additional funding to take specific steps towards tackling climate change. As well as requesting money to replace the radiators in the building WCF chose to employ a sessional worker to run interactive climate change workshops looking at various aspects of the topic that would help support women to come up with solutions to take action together. These workshops have now happened and attracted good support and attendance. Participants included women who are originally from Italy, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Egypt, Jordan and Sudan.
Claudia Oreiro, the sessional worker said,
“We’ve had a great experience in the weekly workshops. The women came along with no experience of talking about climate change before, but they have really enjoyed and learnt a lot about why and how the crisis is happening. Some of them are now able to relate the discussion directly to its impact in their own former countries.”
The subjects discussed have been right up to date including covering the forest fires in Australia and their impact on the land, wildlife, animals and humans.
By meeting together, the women are encouraging each other and seeing what ideas they can come up with to try and live more sustainably within their families and are passing the message on to a wider group of people within their community.
Women Connect First firmly believe they have a responsibility to act to negate their environmental impact and will continue to endeavour to do this to the best of their ability.