With a combination of forums, interviews and open discussion, we were able to dig deeper into the heart of the issue, which we were told, starts with awareness. Awareness of the issue and how it affects everyone, but furthermore, how it affects everyone unequally, depending on socio-economic factors which too often are outside of our control. It also became prevalent there is still a clear underrepresentation of certain backgrounds and cultures within the air pollution agenda when tackling this issue.
A literature review was conducted to gain a deeper understanding and insight into the problem of air pollution. It identified the lack of authentic voices and the links the issue had with the impact of Covid-19 in these deprived communities. Our project initiated a mapping exercise to gain an understanding of just how many environmental groups were operating within Southwark and Lambeth.
What became apparent was although there were a number of organisations operating in the locale, they were firstly not as responsive as you would expect, and secondly, not as enthusiastic to discuss the community engagement element of their work. We were able to ascertain interviews with a number of these organisations, including Mums for Lungs and Clean Air London, understanding more about the manner in which they operate and how they achieve their goals.
We identified a clear separation between the approaches taken by these organisations. Some of which focus on more ground roots publicity and collaboration between other organisations, some of which believe large-scale campaigning and lobbying of national and EU policy was the way to make substantial change.
Alongside this approach, we conducted open forums with a variety of different people from different socio-economic backgrounds to facilitate a safe space for them to gain a better understanding of how these issues affect them. This was supported by experts, such as Emma Hibbert of Imperial College and Simon Birkett, Director of Clean Air London, to share their own research and insights to inform the forum members.
Awareness was the first key issue raised, although forum members were aware the quality of air around them was poor, they did not truly understand how it affected their mental and physical health and how it may be affecting their children’s health. The tragic case of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, in Lewisham, highlighted how destructive this issue is to these communities.
It became apparent that even though aware of the issue, communities were not sure how to tackle it over the long term. The prevalent fact is that pollution is created at higher levels, from middle England who drive 4x4s, and these underrepresented communities are tasked with dealing with the consequences. It’s their health most affected. As this was the first phase of our research, further research is needed to understand and co-produce effective solutions to the problem.
By including those who are most affected, we will be continuing down this path of leading change that provides a mutual benefit to Londoners from all socio-economic backgrounds, rather than just the privileged few.