On 27 September, LINK held our 2022 Congress, the first since 2019. It was fantastic to see everyone, share our highs and lows and reinvigorate ourselves and each other. When we set it up, we had no idea how topical our theme would be to the week. In a week when Westminster politics reflected the worst in society, when levels of despair about their lack of vision were visceral, it was a good time to come together in a massive group hug. Our theme this year was wellbeing and inclusion. We are all working under enormous pressures: most, if not all members, are under capacity. Staff energy and morale is low and the pressures to do even more are growing. The feeling is that now is the time – that if we don’t get it right now, we will have failed today’s society and today’s wildlife and landscape, as well as future generations. Of course, that’s rubbish: as a sector we have a tendency to beat ourselves up far too much.
So, we had two key messages for Congress:
- We are not alone. We have each other and we have this fantastic network we’re all part of.
- We are making our organisations and network stronger and bigger. We know from our member survey in March 2021, that our sector is not as diverse as it could be, not as inclusive as it should be. We all want to change that because it will make us better and stronger for the environment and for society too.
We introduced our new Nature for All project, supported by National Lottery Heritage Fund, which will be looking at how we can support our members, and LINK itself, to become more inclusive, more diverse and open to all. We are doing this with the support of our partners in cemvo Scotland and they, alongside Leigh, our new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer (EDI) Officer, ran 3 introductory workshops.
Our workshops explored equality, diversity and inclusion as a human rights issue, disability and neurodiversity at work and developing an anti-racist approach. We learnt about the synergies behind the ambition across the LINK network to engage in these issues and the enormous appetite for change. It is clear that we are on a long journey and at the start of the conversation. Some of us are further ahead than others, but the key thing is our clear and stated ambition to do more, to be better. We explored how changes in language and terminology are really important and the workshops helped us to understand and use the best language and terminology to be inclusive and welcoming to all. We learnt about the importance of representation and including everyone at every level and doing that visibly. We know that the environment sector in Scotland is very white, pretty middle class and often able bodied. Today we started to do something about that. By becoming more active, we are increasing our knowledge and understanding. We’ll be mainstreaming EDI into our decision making and our strategies and we’ll be building on our data baseline and gathering better data, on recruitment for example.
In the evening, we turned the focus inwards, to look at how the scale and rate of change is impacting us, as people, as team members and as colleagues. The potential for sector burn out is especially high amongst eNGOs. Sick levels and absences from work are impacting across teams and the levels of stress we are under are significant. We talked about building resilience and achieving change and maintaining energies. It’s too easy to get bogged down by immediate urgencies. We looked at what we’ve achieved – and it’s been a lot. We looked at what we need to do, how young people want to be involved and why. And we heard from Mike Robinson, one of our Honorary Fellows, whose recent blog about kindness underlined the importance of this topic and how we need to be kind to each other if we are to maintain our momentum.
As we move into 2023, our vision is for nature to be restored, communities to be resilient and future generations’ quality of life to be secure. Through remaining positive, reflecting hope, capturing our own agency to lead and offer inspiration and by working together, we will get there. It’s not just a case of keeping calm and carrying on. It’s about inspiring and supporting action and showing what the future could look like.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare….
Deborah Long, Chief Officer at LINK.