A Year of CEM – Chloe Jeffries

Looking back at a year of Climate Emergency Manchester with a series of posts from the Core Group members.

Chloe Jeffries

I’m an historian and research strategy manager at the University, living in Manchester since 2015. At heart, I’ve spent the past five years getting to know the city and the people who make it.

My involvement in CEM came when my friend Marc asked if I wanted to formalise some of the many conversations we’d had about ‘what is to be done’. And introduced me to Calum. The offer came at a good time for me: after my job had expanded three times in as many years, I could now see a way to carve some space out of work commitments.  Or rather, it came at a time when the terrifying planetary situation meant I could no longer fall back on such excuses for not taking more action.

I’ve been involved in lots of ‘extracurricular’  activities over the years, some of them activist and some of them environmental, if you take a broad definition of both those terms. I was a trade union organiser, a founding member of a local food cooperative and a researcher for People and Planet HQ, just as they were hatching plans to get the first university in the UK to divest. My activism has entailed more listening than shouting on the streets. I’ve often taken on mentoring or support roles, most rewardingly serving as a nightline worker for a charity supporting victims of domestic abuse. I like being involved in the early stages of an initiative, when we are all collectively figuring out what we do. But this means I have seen burnout too.

A year with CEM has been a crash course in local government. If you’d asked me last spring how a scrutiny committee functioned or sub-group operated, I would have looked at you blankly or given a vague, garbled answer. Like most people. Local government is rarely glamorous and seldom taught in schools. But it matters. And it is not so difficult to get up to speed. I watched and listened and then passed on what I learned to other people. This is what I am most proud of: helping others to engage more with local democracy. Without pretending that it’s perfect, or a wild ride.

We’re all plate spinners, and have inevitably dropped a few. We have missed deadlines or not maximised an opportunity here and there. But I’d rather that we stayed healthy than tick off everything on an ambitious list. Besides, we haven’t always been helped in our endeavours by confusing processes or obfuscated information. There are developments like the Local Plan or Spatial Framework whose significance I only now appreciate.

What has it cost me? A bit of metaphorical loose change (Sandbar is card only). Definitely time, but I see that as my rent payment.  On occasions, some sleep – but mainly because I’m switching off the light with a brain still buzzing about what we could do next.

And what should that next step be? I’m also writing in the early days of lockdown. I don’t think this fundamentally changes the answer that I would have given a few weeks ago but it does lend it a heightened relevance. From the outset, connecting citizens has been central to CEM and what interested me. I hope that some of the solidarities we’re seeing now can continue long-term and in the face of threats that feel less immediate. I’m particularly looking forward to projects that link up Manchester with other cities and other boroughs. Whatever is coming, it has to be better to face it together.

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