Active communities restoring the earth

January 13, 2021 in coronavirus, Featured News, News

The ACRE Project (Active Communities Restoring the Earth) has submitted its first report since its founding in September 2020. Already they have been working with prisoners, politicians, religious, local communities, and peacebuilding groups in the North, all with a view to ‘caring for our common home’.

ACRE was set up by Dialogue For Diversity (run by Brian Lennon SJ) and who says that it emerged from a recognition that the climate emergency is the most urgent of the many challenges facing the global community at this point in time.

Brian is chair of the management committee of ACRE, which comprises Dr Kevin Hargaden and Dr Ciara Murphy of the Irish Centre for Faith and Justice, Niall Leahy SJ, Rosemary Murray (who formerly worked with disabled young people in Barnardo’s), along with Kate Martin and Roma Carlisle (both involved in the Spring Youth Project, Armagh.)

The project co-ordinator of ACRE is Dympna Mallon, who explains in this first report that “ACRE is committed to promoting action to care for creation and greater responsibility in our partnership with the natural world, with a particular focus on the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups and communities. This approach is highlighted by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’.”

According to Brian, the ACRE project “draws not only on the vision and themes of Laudato Si’, but also on the continuing evidence and impact of our abuse of the earth’s natural resources”.

Read Dympna’s full report below.

The greening of our future

The Project seeks to raise awareness of the various issues which underpin our attitude and behaviour towards the created world and all the various species with whom we share it. ACRE is committed to promoting action to care for creation and greater responsibility in our partnership with the natural world, with a particular focus on the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups and communities, a theme highlighted by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’.

The interconnection between our well-being and the delicate balance in nature has been highlighted in a particular way over the Covid lockdown in Spring 2020, demonstrating that both our mental and physical health is dependent on the natural world and our relationship with it.

ACRE has endeavoured, since September 2020, to reach out to and connect with groups which have been marginalised or disadvantaged whether economically, politically, socially or culturally and to encourage them to consider the climate issue as both a responsibility to be undertaken and also an opportunity to be explored.

By viewing engagement with the climate emergency and responding to it as an opportunity, space can emerge for personal development, learning, upskilling, as well as community empowerment through increased dialogue, greater political participation, accessing funding, and challenging and lobbying decision-makers. Most important of all, however, is the potential which exists for human flourishing, regardless of age, gender, race or capacity.

To date, relationships have been developed with a former political prisoners group in Newry, who have an established community garden and recognise the mental health benefits it offered throughout the lockdown of Spring/Summer 2020.

Through ACRE they have been introduced to the concept of ‘Tiny Forests,’ and are now being supported in exploring with Earthwatch Europe (UK) the feasibility of a ‘Tiny Forest’ on land for which they have a long term lease with Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

Relationships have also been established in Mullacreevie, a vibrant Armagh housing estate with a strong sense of community. In conjunction with ACRE and the women who run the Community House, a bug hotel was built by local mothers and children in the Community House garden in November 2020. [See photo.]

There are tentative plans to engage further with the children and parents on the ways in which biodiversity can be promoted and encouraged around the hotel and elsewhere in the garden.

Both these groups are being encouraged and supported to submit responses to the current DAERA consultation on a Climate Change Bill for Northern Ireland.

The Churchill Park community in Portadown represents another possibility, although the building of relationships there is in the early stages. In conjunction with Brendan MacPartlin SJ, contact has been made with community planning personnel in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council to establish the ownership of land to the rear of Churchill Park, and also with the local community worker.

Contact has been established with relevant personnel in both Newry, Mourne and Down, and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Councils, as well as a range of local community groups with an interest in wildlife, conservation, biodiversity and gardening.

The local SDLP councillor has proposed a virtual meeting with the party representatives from the Armagh council area as well as the local MLAs to explore what ACRE might offer to their various constituencies, which include some of the most disadvantaged in the North.

Contact has also been made, through Dialogue For Diversity, with Community Dialogue (a Belfast-based peacebuilding group set up in 1998 by Brian Lennon SJ, among others), where there is a recognition that the climate issue is a key component in peacebuilding, and a concrete interest exists in a working relationship with ACRE.

The Administrator of the Cathedral parish in Armagh has proposed an ACRE  presentation to the local clergy forum as an introduction to the personnel in other churches in the Armagh area.

Involvement with Embrace NI, a group of Christians from across the Church who work with the Christian community to facilitate a climate of welcome for those who are seeking asylum, refugees and minority ethnic peoples, may also create opportunities for outreach by ACRE.

Rapid, or even steady progress is being hampered to a large degree at this point in time by the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions imposed on movement and gatherings. However, the urgency of the climate issue and the growing awareness of the need for more ‘joined-up thinking’ about how health and social and economic policies interconnect with climate issues, underpins the vital nature of the work which ACRE is seeking to do, and is a core tenet of its purpose.

– Dympna Mallon, Project Co-ordinator ACRE