News - 27 February 2020

Bayside community group is kicking goals

If there’s any lesson we can take away from history’s greatest activist movements, it’s that fair and effective change stems from the ground-up. This is one of the key reasons prompting the creation of our network of local community groups. When we’re facing large-scale issues like climate change and the biodiversity crisis, it can be tricky to identify how we can actually help. Community groups give anybody the opportunity to partake in environmental action—on a local scale.

The story of the Wilderness Society Bayside group provides a fantastic insight into what community groups can look like on the ground. It shows how action can begin from a group of friends deciding that they want to do more, and organising activities that bring the community together and raise awareness. By hosting fun and relaxed events, the Bayside group is helping people reimagine what environmental activism can look like in 2020.

Henri and Lucy, our Bayside leaders, shared what spurred them into action in their local community.

The first event run by the Bayside Group wasn’t one which you’d typically associate with profound environmental discourse—a house party. But for founding member Henri Pryde, this was the sort of easy-going space he’d wanted to create for raising awareness of environmental issues within his friendship circle. Like many of his close friends, Henri has always had a strong affinity for nature. Growing up, family holidays were spent near the bright blue waters of Airey’s Inlet, a truly beautiful place where you could find yourself surfing beside jaw-dropping cliffs and pods of dolphins all at once. It’s a place he still carries a deep connection to.

Although Henri was always environmentally conscious, the tipping point came early last year when he suddenly started feeling like he could do more to help the environment. “Just walking around with a Keep Cup pretending I was saving the world wasn't really doing anything,” he reflects now. This motivated him to reach out to The Wilderness Society, leading him to volunteer and partake in the five-day training course. The house party gave Henri the chance to both bring together some mates for “dinner and a couple of beers”, but to also share stories, and the concept of community groups. He pitched the idea of starting a Bayside branch for the Wilderness Society. “They all got around it, and here we are,” Henri says.

Image: Celebrating the five day training course | Matt Tomkins

Since then, the Bayside group has been very busy. Proving that environmental action can take new and creative approaches, the official launch party in December took place at the Brighton Beach Bowls Club. “That was awesome,” says Henri. “There were about 100 people, on a beautiful, sunny day in Brighton at a bowls club on the beach.” The backdrop of music, food and drinks brought together the wider Bayside community and spread the word about their activities. “Our overarching goal is to raise awareness in the community of environmental issues,” Henri explains.

The value of interacting beyond your regular social circle is something which Henri emphasises, but hadn’t really done before starting the group. But the experience of interacting with different members of the community has been eye-opening. “There are, a lot of the time, advancements in people's thinking through those conversations. It's been really cool to watch.”

Henri learning about the power of conversations at the five day leadership training | Matt Tomkins

Engaging with the community has also given Henri, Lucy and other core members the power to act on behalf of the wider community. Early this year, the Wilderness Society Bayside and other local groups convinced the Bayside Council to declare a climate emergency. The council has since committed to developing a climate emergency action plan by October 2020, a momentous achievement.

Indeed, the Bayside group are a busy bunch and recently held a moonlight screening of 2040 in a local park, the acclaimed documentary by Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau who was there for a Q&A session after the film. The film adopts a similar spirit to volunteering with community groups by focusing on innovative, positive ways to mitigate the climate crisis by 2040. Fittingly, the event was entirely human-powered, with four bikes generating the electricity for the film.

"The event was amazingly successful, with over 400 people attending (our goal was 200)," says Henri. "On top of this, the positive atmosphere left everyone leaving feeling incredibly empowered.

"The kids from Hampton Primary got involved, asking their own questions to Damon as well as being asked questions by Damon himself and absolutely nailing the answers. Damon did an awesome job, giving people insight and advice on all manner of issues, from small local actions to large scale global solutions."

The Bayside team (Henri far left), at the screening of 2040. Image: @dapplegroup.

Are there solutions proposed by Gameau which the Bayside group think could be enacted locally? “Interesting question!” says Lucy. “When talking about things we want to be in the [Bayside Council] action plan, someone mentioned a microgrid with renewable energy. So having some community areas on a smaller scale powered by renewable energy, that’s quite visible for the public to see." Such ideas are far from a pipe-dream; in fact, Monash University is building a versatile microgrid including solar panels, which aims to end fossil fuel dependence within the next 12 years.

"I think the biggest takeaway is the sense of empowerment and inspiration that the film gives, showing that it is not impossible and anyone can do it," says Henri. "On a local level, advice was given on putting pressure on local politicians at all levels of government (the mayor of Bayside as well as a Federal MP Josh Burns both attended). There was also encouragement around taking on your own renewable energy solutions."

When considering what makes the Wilderness Society Bayside group successful, it’s clear that good communication and a solid support system are key. Both Henri and Lucy stress the power of teamwork. “I think the skill of humans isn't necessarily how we can do things individually, it's how we can do things as a group,” Henri says. “People have got different connections, people have got marketing skills, organisational skills, management skills, and you can't get all of that by yourself. You need help, you need teams.”

Three words to describe the Wilderness Society Bayside Group? It’s a tricky question.

“I would say passionate, effective and fun,” says Henri. “Passionate, inclusive and approachable,” decides Lucy.

Visit the Wilderness Society Bayside Group Facebook page for information on how to take part in the group and any upcoming events.

Ready to find out more?

Sign up, and one of our community organisers will call you to discuss how you can get involved with your local group.

Together, we can make real change for our natural world in our own communities, and have a great time with like-minded people in the process.