By Christina Fuentes Tibbitt, Community Engagement Manager at the British Science Association 

Headshot of Christina Fuentes Tibbitt

The Highlands and Islands Climate Change Community Grant, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and delivered by the British Science Association (BSA) and Science Ceilidh, is supporting communities in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to work together with researchers on addressing local climate change issues.  

Through the scheme, communities that have fewer opportunities to engage with research are able to lead partnerships with researchers on challenges that matter to them.  

We are exploring what a participatory, place-based, small grants programme could look like – one that allows communities to design projects, choose researcher partners and allocate funds.  

The programme also involves building and supporting the groups (both community organisers and researchers) as a network, so that learnings can be shared and wider, longer-term partnerships can be built. 

The launch of the scheme coincided with COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, with nine community-led research projects then granted funding to run from April to October 2022.  

As the first phase of the scheme draws to a close, we reflect on the impact of the nine community-led climate change research projects, explore what we’ve learnt so far and look at what’s next. 

Phase one: The community-research projects tackling local climate change issues 

Seaweed Gardens 

Seaweed Gardens did not emerge from a pre-existing group but from “a collective of [food] growers and creatives and scientists based in Oban who are all interested in environmentalism and climate action and doing things together to try and make things better” (community organiser, Danielle Banks).  

In partnership with a local foodbank and community garden, they experimented with using seaweed fertilisers to grow vegetables and had a programme of creative and community activities, culminating in a harvest festival, community meal and exhibition in September 2022. 

Alongside this, they held monthly meetings that evolved from planning the project to being event-based, such as sharing recipes and swimming. A researcher took part in these activities, sharing her expertise with participants and learning from them. 

The GRAB Trust: Waste Free Takeaways  

Poster advertising reusable cups in a cafe window in Oban, Scotland

The GRAB Trust was funded to recruit and support cafes on Oban to trial switching customers from single-use plastics to reusable cups.  

The project secured a donation of reusable cups from Ecoffee Cup and provided these free to participating small businesses, who publicised their participation online and offline. Businesses were allowed to keep any money from sales at £4 per cup on the condition they invested it in a sustainable improvement for their business. They were asked to keep tally charts recording drink sales by reusable and single-use cups.  

The two researchers working on the project visited the businesses at the start and end of the trial and supported the charity to communicate the project’s findings to Argyll and Bute Council and to participating and non-participating businesses. 

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Case study: Find out more about the Waste Free Takeaways project in Oban

Green Hive: Net Zero Nairn 

Woman with short grey hair wearing a hoodie and a backpack standing up and looking at a display

The starting point for charity Green Hive’s project was their feeling that “we need to know more about the impact that we’re making locally” in Nairn (community organiser, Neil Mapes) 

When they could not find a researcher to provide the metrics and measures they had hoped for, they redesigned the project with a researcher who could focus on developing community research skills and help them to create case studies and stories to capture the experiences of the people who work with them to create a Net Zero Nairn.  

Their researcher trained community volunteers in research skills and guided them through the process of becoming peer researchers, designing and carrying out a qualitative interview study of the volunteer experience. The results were shared at a showcase event and in a report to the charity’s Trustees.  

Case study: Find out more about the Net Zero Nairn project

The Knoydart Foundation: Carbon audit 

Laptop open displaying timeline for a community carbon audit, alongside an open ring binder folder displaying a pie chart of UK average carbon usage

The Knoydart Foundation is a community-run charity that administers 17,200 acres of community-owned land on the Knoydart Peninsula. The Foundation received a grant to do a carbon audit of Knoydart in partnership with a researcher and work towards setting a timeline for achieving net zero.  

When this proved too ambitious, they focused instead on completing a survey of household carbon usage, with one of the project’s researchers providing support, training and use of his electronic tools.  

They reported back to the community throughout the process via three interactive workshops and individual feedback to the households that had taken part. 

Case study: Find out more about the measuring carbon usage in Knoydart project

Climavore CIC: Re-commoning the Coast 

Social enterprise Climavore, based on Skye, built on an existing strand of activity working with community groups to develop aquaculture farms in inter tidal zones. Funding from our grant scheme helped extend their project to communities in Raasay and Uig.  

They delivered two citizen science workshops, led by the researcher brought onboard to support the project, which took people to the shoreline to discuss how they could monitor the impact of the aquaculture farms on the coastal environment. The workshops involved not just delivery of knowledge and skills but the sharing of expertise and valuable experience.  

They also ran workshops with the students from the island's five primary schools and biology students from the island's secondary school 

Comann Eachdraidh Eirisgeidh (Eriskay Historical Society): Climate Action Plan 

Landscape scenic photo of a field and a mountain in Eriskay, Scotland

Social enterprise Comann Eachdraidh Eirisgeidh wanted to raise awareness within their community about the effects of climate change and what measures could be implemented. Two researchers supported the group in devising a Climate Action Plan, which included running a series of activities:  

  • an open day in their local hall, open to both the Eriskay and adjoining South Uist communities; 
  • a meeting with leaders of local community action groups; 
  • liaison with community workers via schools to involve children and young people in the project; and  
  • surveys delivered to every house on the island with a simple format asking questions about their knowledge of climate change. 

Cothrom: Future Story / Sgeul ri Teachd 

Young girl with red hair wearing a black and white checked shirt, writing in a notebook

Cothrom, meaning ‘opportunity’ in Gaelic, is an adult learning charity in the Western Isles that was funded to run a programme of workshops to develop a collective climate story.  

Working with a social scientist and climate researcher, as well as a poet educator, they used speculative fiction (narratives about things that can potentially take place, even though they haven’t happened yet) to enable participants to explore possible futures. Ultimately the participants decided that they would write separate stories with common themes cutting across the different contributions.  

At the end of the funding period, they had collected the eight stories and were preparing to edit them into a publication that can be shared.  

Community organiser Alison Stockwell spoke of the inclusion and optimism that came out of the project:  

A lot of [participants] said that they felt they were part of their community in ways they’d never been able to be before, so they felt much more connected. 

Glaitness School: Sustainable travel  

Cycle path sign painted on the floor

Glaitness School, one of two primary schools located in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, created a programme to enable them to reach their net zero school transport goal. They worked with doctoral researchers to develop and trial materials in classrooms and with parents. They also encouraged people to try different ways of getting to school, with the aim for researchers to collect data to share with the local authority.   

Teacher Kate Towsey found the programme empowering:  

What it’s given me as a practitioner is the confidence and the structure to engage with young people about climate change where I am more confident that something that they can do would make a difference. 

​​Trees for Life: Highlands Green Leadership Awards 

Rewilding charity Trees for Life was funded to run five workshops with young people to co-create a new Highlands Green Leadership Awards scheme to allow young people to gain a qualification through working in nature and with the community.  

Banner from a poster which includes the text Green Leadership Award with a photo of a young man hiking in the mountains

A researcher supported the development and delivery of workshops with young people that gave them voice and influence to think global and act local. At the formal end of the funding, they had done three workshops and plan to complete the remaining two and produce a report by Spring 2023. This report will be used by their partners, High Life Highland, to guide their development of the awards and will inform Trees for Life’s youth engagement work going forward.  

Researcher Mollie Saunders reflects that the project has increased her confidence in doing research in community contexts:  

You have to know when to put things in place, what order to put them in place, and I think that is something I hadn’t learnt before in an academic setting… the dynamics of what makes research useful and practical. 

Want to find out more? Explore our suite of resources, case studies and videos from the phase one projects 

What we’ve learnt 

Illustration by Phoebe Roze of discussions at a Community of Practice meeting in November 2022

Caption: Artwork by Phoebe Roze summarising the programme's Community of Practice meeting in Inverness on 1 November 2022

Through a series of interviews with the community organisers and researchers, external evaluator Dr Heather Mendick has brought together key learnings from these projects, which collectively represent an exploration of both community climate action and research and in creating more equitable collaborative relationships between communities and researchers. 

Here’s what she found:  

  • Community climate action can be empowering by showing local people, groups and businesses what is possible. 
  • Community climate action can also be disempowering by emphasising the limits to what can be done at a local level. To overcome this, schemes like our Highlands and Islands Climate Change Community Grant should support communities to build from local to societal change. 
  • To create equitable relationships between communities and researchers and to recognise the expertise held within communities, it is essential to take active steps to reverse the traditional power relationships between researchers and communities, whereby researchers have more power and status and are seen as holding all the expertise. 
  • The power imbalances between community and research participants can also be addressed in how projects are organised. For example, events can happen in community spaces, can foreground community as well as researcher knowledge, and can involve shared activities. 
  • Collaborations work best when communities and researchers develop their projects together. 
  • Dominant research culture, including a focus on journal articles over more publicly accessible publications and on big top-down projects over small grassroots ones, works against equitable collaborations between communities and researchers.  
  • Projects that build research capacity in communities make future research collaborations more likely. This ranges from increased public understanding of what research can do, to researchers sharing their knowledge and skills with communities.   
  • Community organisers and researchers need individualised support from funders and a supportive community of peers.  

    Download the executive summary of our phase one evaluation report

    Phase two: What’s next for the grant scheme? 

    Phase two of the Highlands and Islands Climate Change Community Grant scheme is now in progress.

    Community-researcher partnerships that were established in phase one were supported to drive their projects forward, and the network that we have established was strengthened with deepened partnerships and new connections with stakeholders.  

    The programme was also extended to support new community-researcher partnerships with a new grant call later this year. 


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