Great Big Green Fair Gets Henley Community Thinking about Climate Crisis

The Great Big Green Week kicked off in Henley on Saturday with a Great Big Green Fair! Falaise Square was packed with over 30 stalls, each one encouraging the local community to get engaged with the climate crisis. The fair, organised by Greener Henley with the support of Henley Town Council, is part of the nationwide Great Big Green Week, which calls for action on climate change.

A number of local climate and community groups had stalls at the event, including Greener Henley, the Rotary Club, Gillotts School’s Eco Club, and the Mencap Society. Henley Rotary Club’s stall attracted many a spectator for their demonstration of a ‘magic’ device that turns water into, er, water. The Aquabox pump transforms filthy water into clean drinking water, removing dirt and most waterborne diseases such as cholera. The pumps are sent out to disaster areas by Rotary-supported charity Aquabox, and are currently being sent to help flood victims in Pakistan. Children at the fair were fascinated by the magic device, and their parents were equally impressed. As a result, the Henley Rotarians’ JustGiving page raised enough to buy at least one emergency box with pump and a number of replacement filters (to contribute, visit their JustGiving page).

Greener Henley’s tent was brimming with activities and advice on how people can make small changes to benefit the planet. Many passers-by added to the group’s ‘Tree Of Action’, which asked people to pledge what they could do to reduce their impact on the climate. Responses included taking public transport, litter picking on walks, and using keep cups rather than single use plastic.

Lucy Preston, of Greener Henley, said, “One small change could make a massive difference if we all act collectively. It feels like everybody is doing something, but I think the idea behind this stand is to talk a little bit about how if we all pull together, we can make this enormous difference. Even though people do feel this existential doom because they think, ‘oh god what is climate change and how is that going to affect us,’ I think what we’re trying to do is turn it around and spin it positively. We still have loads of time to make changes, and we can make tiny changes that make a massive difference.”

The Great Big Green Fair seemed the perfect opportunity to present the awards for this year’s Greener Henley Environmental Science Challenge, which asked ‘How Important Are Insects?’. Pre-schools, primary schools, and key stage 3 students were invited to take part, and submissions could be either scientific or creative, or a mix of both! Three local schools — Rupert House, St Mary’s and Checkendon — were recognised for their inspiring work on insects. The three winners have had their names inscribed on the Environmental Science Challenge trophy, which they will share between them throughout the academic year. They also each received an insect house for their schools.

Henley Mayor Michelle Thomas presented the awards. She said, “I’d like to say thank you so much for embracing this prize. As we know, this is the launch of the Great Big Green Week here in the UK. We’ve got events like this taking place up and down the country, so Henley Town Council are really proud to be part of this, as is Greener Henley. I actually chose Greener Henley as one of my Mayor’s charities this year. That is, in part, because I was the councillor who put the proposal forward to council that we acknowledge and then move to declare a climate emergency. That was done as soon as I took up my council role in 2019 and then in 2020. I’m reinforcing this message with everything that I do around the town this year, and what a better way to start than with our school children. Thank you so much for taking part and good luck going forward.”

The Head Girls from Rupert House School, Daisy and Maya, were on honoured to collect the award on behalf of their school. Although they did not take part in the winning project (as it was done by the previous Year 6 cohort), seeing all the entries has inspired the students to get involved with the competition in 2023. Speaking about the importance of preserving the climate, Daisy said, “I think it’s really important because as we get older, I think we really have to do something about it. There are loads of animals and their homes that are being cut down and destroyed, so I think it’s really important that we build them back up.”

Charlotte Gibbon, the Science teacher at Rupert House, said, “After they get through their Year 6 exams, I do environmental projects with the Year 6’s. I put them into groups and I let them come up with their own ideas. I give them a bit of guidance, but ask them, how can we help the environment and make changes at our school to make it more environmentally friendly. I let them run with it really, and they come up with some amazing things. We had the project that we did here obviously, and also last year we had a plastic free picnic for the whole school. They love learning about what they can do to help the environment and all the little changes we can make as a school to have a big impact.”

There was a good representation of local schools at the fair, with Gillotts School’s Eco Club running their own stand. The Eco Club, together with the Gillotts’ Eco Committee, are working on making the school more sustainable. Recently, they planted a new hedge in the school to improve their carbon footprint and promote biodiversity. On their fair stand, the club showcased some of their upcycled creations, including bunting made from old shirts and bookmarks made from old book pages. School librarian, Sarah Seddon, said, “I’m the school librarian and I love recycling books, as well as encouraging people to read them. We’ve made bookmarks, hedgehogs, seed pots for growing seedlings which you can bury in the ground.”

A number of local businesses got involved in the fair, including Bosley Patch, The Willow Basket, and Wild & Rust. Wild & Rust owner Bea Pearson said, “For us, everything we do has a sustainable approach, whether it’s how we source things, or the product that we specifically provide. We try to make our products sustainable in that it’s recyclable, biodegradable, and sourced responsibly, working with local artisans as much as we can and people that understand our company ethos. It’s about promoting a message that sustainable can be stylish, and that it enhances wellbeing. It’s the little things that matter.”

One of the largest tents in the square was dedicated to the Henley Sustainability Hub, a new initiative by Greener Henley. The hub, which has yet to find a premises, would be a space to build community engagement on the climate and share information. Plans for the hub are still in the works, and attendees to the fair were asked what services and purpose they thought it could provide. Kate Oldridge, a member of Greener Henley said, “The response has been great. When we bring people in, they’re really interested in finding out more and they’ve been giving some really good ideas. People are really engaged. And the good thing, as well, about it is that it’s all different kinds of people. People across the political spectrum, people of all different ages, and that’s what is really important actually. One of the key things for the centre is that we don’t just want to be speaking to the eco warrior echo chamber, we want to be really engaging with everyone across the spectrum no matter who they are, and the space needs to be really welcoming and inclusive for everybody. It’s a real key focus for the centre.”

Although Greener Henley held a Big Green Week fair in 2021, this year’s event was considerably larger, with more stands and businesses getting involved. Julia Samyui-Adams, a member of Greener Henley, said, “It’s about getting awareness. We did it last year and it was much smaller, but now we’ve got the backing of the Town Council, and the Mayor’s backing our proposal for the Sustainability Hub which will enable us to reach all sectors of society. It’s not about people who are already doing loads of stuff coming to Greener Henley meetings, it’s about reaching out and getting it throughout the whole of Henley, bringing the community together and doing things for the good of the community. It’s about building resilience within the community and understanding. It’s letting people know about the businesses and what they can do. Those are the things that will have a knock on effect and make really big changes.”

The Great Big Green Week continues in Henley, with plenty more activities and events to get involved with. To find out more, visit the Greener Henley website.