Ideas for action
There are plenty of things you can do that’ll help get people interested – and push air pollution up the council’s agenda at the same time.
Anything you do locally can help raise awareness. And many of the ideas below will work for your community, even if a Clean Air Zone isn’t the immediate solution.
We’ve tried to include examples of local successes to help you pick and choose what works best for you.
Organise a petition
Collecting signatures from people in your community is a great way to show that you have public opinion behind you.
If your council knows that there are lots of local people who want action to tackle air pollution, they’re more likely to take notice.
As far as possible it’s a good idea to make sure the signatures you present to the council are all from your area. Numbers of signatures from outside your area may be used by the council as a reason to question the validity of your petition.
Fiends of the Earth is working on its own software that will let you set your own petition up, which you may be able to use. If you’d like to know more please get in touch on email@example.com.
A few top tips for setting up a petition include:
Be clear about what you’re asking for, and make the petition short and easy to read.
Only ask your target to do one thing, so it’s clear to people what they’re asking for, and what you want the target to do. We know this is what has worked best for many campaigns.
Get in touch with us if you’d like help crafting your petition text or want factual advice. We’d love to help you create a petition that’s both effective and engaging.
Here are just a few of the great local petitions that local groups have set up.
Reading Friends of the Earth
Reading Friends of the Earth spoke at a council meeting and handed in a petition signed by over 400 people. The group used a mixture of paper petition sheets and a digital version and got some great press coverage.
Oxford Friends of the Earth
Oxford Friends of the Earth handed in a 30-foot-long petition to Oxfordshire County Council and also organised a Thunderclap to help spread the word about it.
St. Albans Friends of the Earth
St. Albans Friends of the Earth made use of a petition function on their council's website to boost signature numbers. By doing so the group managed to reach the target of 500 and secured an opportunity to present the petition to a full council meeting.
Organise a Clean Air Cafe
Clean Air Cafés are public events trialled by a few groups in London, but they can work anywhere.
They’re a new way of bringing people together to talk about air pollution at a local level. It’s up to you exactly what format and style your Café takes - here are some ideas to get you thinking about it.
PICK YOUR CAMPAIGN
A key element of Hackney and Tower Hamlets Friends of the Earth’s successful Clean Air Café was choosing the goals of their air pollution campaign. The group teamed up with a local housing association and another campaigning group and invited everyone to come along and vote for their favourite proposal.
By making the event so participatory the group were able to engage lots of new audiences and build support for campaign goals chosen by local people.
Over lunch people had the chance to look over plans for four different ideas to tackle air pollution:
a car-free day
reclaiming the streets through pedestrianisation
improving the infrastructure for cycling
a Clean Air alliance for businesses.
Each campaign had its own table, staffed by a volunteer to answer questions and give out factsheets full of examples of where such campaigns have succeeded in real life.
SPOTLIGHT ON TOWER HAMLETS
We were keen to work with partners so we could attract the widest possible range of local people to our event. Our two partners aren’t just committed to tackling air pollution in our local area, they helped us reach lots of different people - particularly local residents in Poplar, young people and local councillors.
Running the event in collaboration also made it much easier. Because there were more people involved we ended with lots of good ideas on how to run it. We had more people to research and to talk to people who came along on the day about the campaign options. It was lots of fun working in collaboration too. The local air quality campaign who worked with us prepared and brought along some brilliant moss tiles for children to play with, which we wouldn’t have managed to do had we run the event on our own.
We also wanted to make sure everyone knew how they could get involved afterwards. So we planned another meeting in advance for one month later and made sure to advertise it well. At that meeting we worked together to agree the changes we wanted to see to the winning campaign. And we agreed the next meeting, where we looked at how we will go out and engage others on the campaign - including young people, tenant boards, doctors' surgeries and religious groups.
By taking this approach with our Clean Air Café we've been able to build a stronger and more exciting campaign, and we have a bigger group of people to take it to the next level.
Reaching out across the community with events
Ealing Friends of the Earth’s event took place in Southall, a densely populated, multicultural part of the borough with some degree of poverty. Despite the council taking measures to tackle known traffic issues there, the group’s monitoring uncovered high levels of air pollution.
The group organised an event at a well-known community hub – mixing presentations from speakers, discussion groups on different topics and refreshments. To make sure everyone was represented, the group worked hard to invite local community and faith groups, students and elected decision makers like councillors and MPs.
EALING'S EVENT – IN THEIR OWN WORDS
We picked Southall because it's a part of our borough that we’ve done very little work in before and there’s lots of traffic congestion and bottlenecks in the area. We know from our own monitoring that there is a high degree of air pollution too. The event was a great way to engage residents, finding out their concerns and what is already being done about them.
We already had some contacts with the local Transition and A Rocha groups, who are very active and helped publicise our event. And as well as collecting details of various residents', community and faith groups we had a stall at a college Freshers' Fair.
We also got in touch with local primary schools to let them know about the Clean Air Schools Pack and see if they would welcome any help with projects.
We want to build relationships with both individuals and groups in Southall so that we can work together on local issues. It's important to us that we aren't seen as coming in to tell people what they should do, but rather as offering help and information.
See our guidance on alliance building and advice on working with people most affected by air pollution.
Richmond and Twickenham Friends of the Earth organised an event to coincide with a council-led consultation on air quality.
Despite Richmond being seen as quite a green part of London the group wanted to show people that air pollution is still a problem in the borough. The group also wanted to involve an alliance of local organisations and community groups already working on the issue.
The event was a great opportunity to share and discuss ideas on what to do next with the campaign, alongside presentations from expert speakers. The group worked hard on getting people along on the night, creating a Facebook event and sending out lots of promotional emails.
An invitation was also sent out to Friends of the Earth supporters in the borough – including those who’d used the Clean Air Kit to monitor air pollution themselves. A number of supporters accepted the invitation and attended the event, whilst those who couldn’t make it on the night asked to sign up to the group’s newsletter list.
Our guide on organising a public event might come in useful if you're thinking about a Clean Air Café . If you’d like any help planning your event then we’d be glad to help with that too.
Idling refers to running a vehicle's engine when the vehicle is not in motion. This commonly occurs when drivers are stopped at a red light, stuck in traffic, waiting whilst parked etc.
Did you know that idling unnecessarily is illegal? Drivers who refuse to switch off their engines can be issued fixed penalty notices.
An increasing number of modern engines now have stop-start technology that cuts the engine when the car is stationary, in order to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. But idling is still a very common problem that you could focus on, as reported by groups below.
You can order anti-idling leaflets from Friends of the Earth by getting in touch with your staff contact.
Global Action Plan’s No-Idling Toolkit is full of great ideas and guidance on idling – including tips on what to say to drivers and planning an event.
CASE STUDY: NEWBURY FRIENDS OF THE EARTH
We decided to tackle the level crossing at Thatcham, which has long been a bone of contention. It’s one of the few places in the area where you can cross the railway lines and there’s been a lot of housing built in the last 30 years – so there’s a lot of local traffic. Unfortunately, the technology at the crossing can’t differentiate between the types of trains coming through, so drivers often get stuck at the barriers for 10-15 minutes.
Our group recently spent the day there, talking to drivers of stationary vehicles on both sides of the crossing. We put up banners on each side of road, so people knew who we were, then asked them if they’d mind turning their engine off.
About a third of the people we spoke to had already done so, or the car had done it for them. Roughly 80% of those whose engines were still running happily agreed to switch it off. Many of them reflecting that they hadn’t thought of doing it themselves before then.
A handful of people refused, even after we pointed out that you can drive for one mile for every three minutes that an engine is idling.
We got good coverage in our local paper and then Meridian TV picked it up from there and featured the story in the regional news.
We’re also talking to the council about taxis idling in Newbury town centre. And we’re talking to Thames Water and the local bus company about their vehicle fleets. It’s slow progress but we’ll keep going.
CASE STUDY: CLEAN AIR CATFORD
We’ve concentrated on improving the air quality around schools in our neighbourhood. We’ve been working with the schools in the area to reduce traffic to and from the schools in general. But we also noticed there’s a pretty big issue with idling.
After we discovered it’s illegal to idle your engine we decided to enlist some support – given just how difficult it is to enforce that particular law. So we got in touch with our local team of PCSOs (police community support officers) and asked if they could patrol outside the schools at morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times.
We approached all the schools first to make sure they were happy – and found they were really supportive. At first the PCSOs were sceptical and tried to deflect us back to the council for help. But we persuaded them to give it a try and we’re really happy to say it’s worked really well so far.
The PCSOs have now patrolled a couple of times outside each school and it’s been easy to see what a difference it’s made on those days. People definitely take much more notice when it’s a police officer asking them to turn off their engines!
It’s only a small part of reducing pollution around the schools. But the most important thing is getting the schools on your side, and working with them to bring down pollution.
There are lots of ways you can work with schools to tackle air pollution – see our schools guide for more.
CASE STUDY: EASTBOURNE AND DISTRICT FRIENDS OF THE EARTH
We’ve been busy talking to the council about what can be done in Eastbourne, short of a Clean Air Zone. We’ve been looking at No-Idling Zones around town, especially outside schools and at railway level crossings. We’ve also been out and about talking to bus drivers who don’t switch off their engines whilst not in service – with mixed results.
In conjunction with the council we’re planning to write to local bus and taxi companies, asking for help with drivers switching off their engines while waiting for customers or when out of service. We know the council is also talking to the bus companies about enforcing rules around idling, so we’re hoping for some success on that front soon.
As part of a new local grassroots initiative called Clean Air Eastbourne we’ve secured funding to build and install air quality monitors in one of the most deprived and polluted parts of the town. We’re hoping the results we get will help empower local people to make a stronger case for measures to reduce air pollution in Eastbourne.
Working with schools
Working with schools is a great way to influence how the next generation will behave.
Keen to work with schools on air pollution but not sure where to start? Here are some helpful tips to get you going:
Do you know any parents or teachers at the school?
Use the school’s public email to make first contact - this is usually the admin email for the school, so be prepared to follow up with a further email or phone call.
Address your email to Head of Geography or Head of Science; air pollution fits well within their subjects so this could help you gain traction.
We all know teachers are busy, so ensure to stress what you’re able to do for the school. Whether delivering an assembly or helping them with their air monitoring – be clear on what your offer to them is.
WHAT YOU CAN DO WITH THE SCHOOL
Deliver a lesson from the Clean Air Schools Pack: our education pack for Key Stage 2 pupils not only teaches them about air pollution but can get them campaigning for clean air too.
Get them monitoring: the Clean Air Schools Pack comes with two free air monitoring tubes, perfect for you to get the school monitoring for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
School Assembly: We’ve produced a fun and simple assembly on air pollution for you – it gives a great overview on air pollution, its sources and effects, and on the simple things children can do to help.
Letter writing: Persuasive letter writing fits really well with the English curriculum - why not get the children writing to their local councillors, MP(s) or even their parents on why clean air matters to them.
If you'd like a copy of the pack to look at – without the monitoring tubes – just email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for a paper or pdf version.
If you know of schools who might like to order a pack, please share the link below with them so they can order their own.
Stunts and stalls
Stunts and stalls are a great way to catch the eye of the public and local media.
They’re a perfect opportunity to talk to local people and let them know about air pollution and what role the council could play in solving it. Check out our guides on planning a great action and running a stall.
Getting people to lend their support to your campaign is key, so make sure you take along something for people to add their name to – an action card, petition or a signup sheet for your group.
You can also use the stall to tell people about upcoming events and any other ways they can help. Here are just some of the many ideas you could try.
FLOWERS IN THE SQUARE
Healthy Air Leicester & Leicestershire has been running a phenomenal campaign for cleaner air in Leicestershire for quite a few years. One of their eye-catching stunts involved putting 250 daffodils in the city centre to represent the number of people who die prematurely as a result of dirty air in the city each year.
This event did an incredible job of drawing attention to the campaign, including coverage in local press and on the BBC.
RECLAIM PARKING SPACES
The Reclaim the Streets movement has seen parking spaces utilised in various creative ways to highlight the dominance of vehicles on our roads. One idea that could suit your air pollution campaign is to occupy a space in a local car park and fill it with something other than a car. Why not bring along a folding table, leaflets, signs and props and hold a stall for a few hours, to raise awareness with the drivers.
Please make sure you get permission from the right people before setting anything up. And don’t forget to pay for a ticket if it’s not a free car park.
HERE ARE SOME TOP TIPS FOR HOW YOU COULD RUN A SIMILAR STUNT IN YOUR TOWN:
Think about where might be good to do it – a public square or open space in the town centre that is well known is ideal. Make sure to tie in results of any air pollution monitoring you’ve done.
Check what permissions you need – contact the council to find out if you need to ask for permission.
Plan your date – when might be a timely time to do the stunt? Is there a council meeting coming up on the environment or even air pollution? Has pollution been prominent in the news? Could you do some research online to see if there any key events in the news coming up which will raise the profile of air quality issues?
Invite local councillors and other elected representatives along and other key people at the council.
Take along plenty of information leaflets and action cards – or copies of your own petition if you have one.
Let the press know what you’re doing in good time, or send them photos and a press release afterwards. See our guides on getting the best from the media for help with this.
AIR-CLEANING PLANTS TO BRING YOUR STALL TO LIFE
Stalls can benefit from eye-catching visuals to attract passers-by, but that can be tricky with an invisible problem like air pollution.
Some Friends of the Earth local groups have used air-cleaning pot plants like English Ivy as an ice-breaker to start up conversationsabout air pollution. Although pot plants are used to clean up the air inside our homes, activists have found that they can be used as a ‘way in’ to talking about the pollution outside too.
You could also plan a plant giveaway for the end of the day, or offer them as a thank you for donations. Download the Clean Air plant labels, which can be attached to the pots so that people can find out more information when they get home.
Winchester Friends of the Earth have put together this handy guide to the best plants for cleaning air pollution.
ACTIVITY POSTER – WHO’S EXPOSED TO THE MOST AIR POLLUTION?
This activity is designed to get people thinking and talking about the effects of air pollution. Ask people to decide who in the picture they think is being exposed to the most air pollution and why.
You could display this poster somewhere prominent and ask passers-by to decide who in the picture they think is being exposed to the most air pollution and why.
It’s important to explain that everyone on the poster suffers to some degree, but surprisingly the baby in the car could well be experiencing the most pollution. In some cases, it’s been found that pedestrians or cyclists are often exposed to less air pollution than people in vehicles. The ventilation system that sends air up into the car often sucks in dirty air directly from the exhaust of the car in front, and then traps it inside.
This can be a great way to start talking about the issues and get people to sign up and join the campaign.
More information linked to this activity can be found on the link below:
Playing out days
A playing out day lets people experience a street without cars.
How does it work? A residential street is closed to traffic for a few hours, allowing children to play safely and freely and for neighbours to meet and get to know each other. They’re simple to organise and there’s lots of guidance and support on the Playing Out website.
You’ll need to contact your local council to find out if you can apply to close your street. The policy varies across the UK so make sure you check that it’s possible near you first.
It's not only great for the community to get people and children out and about having fun on their street, it's great for raising awareness about the health impacts of air pollution too.
It's a great opportunity to talk to local people, generate some press coverage and do something fun for clean air.
The Playing Out website has everything you need to know but here are a few simple steps to get you started.
Think about your own street and its layout. Sometimes it works best to close a section rather than a whole street.
Approach residents on your street to talk about the idea and gather views. (If you've already got contacts within the street they'd be a good place to start, otherwise you could do a leaflet drop and invite people to a meeting to discuss the idea. If you’re feeling confident you could then knock on people’s doors – personal contact can make all the difference). Make sure you give people time to ask questions and raise concerns.
Get permission and support – once you're sure there's enough interest, you'll need to write to the council for permission to close the road.
Invite local councillors to come along and get involved.
Publicise the time and date to everybody on your street.
Recruit stewards to help keep the road safe. This could include people from your local group if you’re part of one, but should be mainly residents who children are familiar with.
As long as residents on your street are happy with the publicity you could let the local media know what’s happening by sending a press release. (See our guide to writing a press release). Ask them to send a photographer or take some photos on the day with a good quality camera or smart phone.
Have fun. And don’t forget to tell people about ways they can get involved with the campaign. You might want to take along some leaflets and action cards – plus information about your group - to give people some more information.
Work with your local media
Getting media coverage is one of the best ways to reach people with your message and put pressure on local politicians.
A local paper is read by thousands. Regional radio reaches thousands of homes and a national TV news programme can be watched by millions.
The trick is to provide timely and engaging stories in a way that they can be easily picked up by local media sources. When you have a story a stunt or an event that you want to share, send copy of your press release (see bottom of page) to the news desk and to named contacts.
Follow it up with a phone call to check they’ve received it and ask if they would like any other information. This is a good way to build a relationship with your local journalists.
As a rough guide, the best time to contact a daily paper is in the morning or early afternoon – journalists will be busy writing up stories in the late afternoon. For weekly papers that go out on a Friday it’s best to call early in the week.
Whatever your news story is, draw out any elements that are:
Building on an existing story
Relevant for the audience (e.g. about your local area for local media outlets)
Controversial, unusual, unique or humorous
Involving a local celebrity could also help you to get coverage.
The more imaginative or eye-catching your story, the more likely you are to get coverage.
We have a range of resources to help with media work.
Investigating air pollution in your area
Investigating air quality in your town or city can be a great way to find out more about how clean the air is near you.
It can also be really useful for raising awareness about air pollution and could also be a great place to start a campaign.
The cheapest and simplest way to measure air pollution is with air monitoring tubes (also called diffusion tubes) that measure nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – one of the most harmful pollutants.
A lot of local groups have found that monitoring air quality has helped them:
Build alliances and support for their air pollution campaign, especially with schools in their community. If you’re keen to work with schools in your area then take a look at our Clean Air Schools pack.
Gain local media coverage - here's one example from Sheffield.
Get access to their local council to talk about the alternatives and solutions.
Spread the word about the problem of air pollution.
Please contact email@example.com for more information about monitoring tubes and where you might be able to buy some.