Portrait of resilience #4: meet Croydon’s Rebecca Atherton

As part of the Climate Refresh series, Eastlondonlines has interviewed four local environmental champions to ask how they stay positive in a time of apathy and anxiety. Last but not least, Rebecca Atherton

Name:Rebecca Atherton
Occupation:co-director of Turf (Croydon’s homegrown artist space), organiser of Greening: the town in which we grew
Top Tip:“Think about how we can reconnect ourselves to nature so that people care. You can’t care about something that you never see.”

Tell us about the sustainability challenge you’re working on.

I organise the Greening: the town in which we grew workshop, which is about using the persistence of nature as a metaphor for how people can resist and persist in the borough, despite all the challenges that we face. We walk around and take photos of things that we find growing or existing, and I tell stories about things I’ve seen; like the peregrine falcon feather I found outside the Council offices. We explore things like that during the walking tour; gathering information, photographing, and chatting about our stories, memories, experiences and connecting those things together. We revisit these things back at Turf Project where we make a collaborative zine that is self-published.

How are you working to address the climate crisis in your area?

I think small things have a big impact. You need to have the time and resources to be able to spend understanding the climate crisis and climate change. If you’re doing smaller things it’s more accessible to people. You’ve also got to find roots for people so that they can understand how it connects to them because it’s human nature to care most about things that impact you personally. Thinking about how we are all collectively a community – human and non-human – we see it’s not just people who make up a community, a hometown, or a place.

How do you experience climate fatigue or anxiety?

Have you heard of solastalgia? That’s not exactly the same as climate anxiety but it’s often connected to it. It’s a sense of grief due to the degradation or alteration of an environment. That could be the natural world, it could also be changes to your hometown and a sense of disconnect created by that. I think that’s something that people feel quite a lot in Croydon. There’s not a lot of green space and I think that the primary colour people associate with the borough is grey. There’s not enough being done at the moment to ensure that the natural world exists in all spaces, not just for the privileged spaces of the countryside and suburban areas.

There are a lot of people who grieve that loss in the built environment. My feeling is that those things inter-weave quite significantly. Our environment has a huge part to play in the climate crisis and how we can reconnect ourselves to nature so that people care. You can’t care about something that you never see.

Do you remember when you first took an interest in sustainability?

I used to work for a sustainable fashion label. That was where I started before I did work with Turf. That was at university, but prior to that, even as a child, I was particularly interested in nature conservation. Children naturally grieve the natural world and animals being at risk and they connect to that quite strongly. My family has always been quite engaged in nature and the natural world. I’m fortunate, I haven’t needed to consciously engage with it.

Any parting advice for how to get through climate fatigue or anxiety?:

I think being around other people and getting involved in things is a really big one. It doesn’t have to be activism, it can be as simple as going out and guerrilla gardening an unloved space or putting a swift box up. That goes a long way to just feeling like you’re doing something and that’s kind of infectious. The more people see things being done in a small way, the more they can see the possibilities of what could be done and how it can just become part of life.

Want to learn more about local responses to the climate crisis? See the rest of the Climate Refresh series here.

Leave a Reply