Across the UK, shops that have been abandoned by big chains are becoming hubs for tackling the climate crisis

“We want to reach out beyond the ‘climate bubble’,” says Ben McCallan, chair of the Zero Carbon Guildford charity, in Surrey, which runs ZERO, one of a new wave of climate hubs up and down the UK. 

McCallan and fellow volunteers managed to get a meanwhile (temporary) lease on a 16,000sq ft town centre premises that had been empty for three years. They spruced up the rundown former New Look shop, and ZERO opened in November 2021. The charity is focused on building a community climate action plan, using local solutions to tackle a global crisis. 

ZERO’s aims are threefold: to educate, by reaching out to people who aren’t already taking action on the climate; to offer practical solutions, particularly local ones, to help the community cope with fragile supply chains; and to build mental health and wellbeing support frameworks. 

Entirely run and staffed by volunteers, ZERO has mostly been funded by the community to date, including £25,000 from a crowdfunding campaign. The National Lottery has also just awarded the project £10,000. 

Elsewhere, the Talking Tree climate emergency centre in Staines, Surrey, is housed in a former William Hill betting shop; and Homebase and River Island shops in other towns have been converted into similar set-ups. 

As McCallan puts it: “This is to help people process the negative emotions that so frequently cause people to turn away from the issues at hand, and instead help them use these to spur themselves into action.”

Main image: Zero Carbon Guildford

This article is the latest in our ‘reinventing the high street’ series. In recent weeks, Positive News has been shining a light on the people, places and projects that are breathing new life into the UK’s town and city centres as many retail giants abandon them. 

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