Remembering Wangari Maathai in Manchester

Sunday 3rd March was the first Wangari Maathai day commemorating the first environmentalist AND African woman to win a Noble Peace Prize. It has given us a great opportunity to learn from experiences in the ‘majority world’ to give us clues as to what an ecologically and socially just society would be like.

Wangari and the Green Belt Movement (GBM ) which she founded in her country, Kenya, have inspired the planting of over 50 million trees. To commemorate her, the GBM have set up the Hummingbird campaign ‘bringing people around the earth together to plant 1 billion trees in memory of Wangari Maathai and all she stood for.’

SSM have not directly been involved in planting trees. We encourage the planting of indigenous trees and fruit trees in places where they will not have a negative impact on other aspects of biodiversity. Others have planted trees and intend to plot them on the Hummingbird campaign map This includes Abbey Lees Farm in Cheshire and a new orchard at Manchester University both in association with the Kindling Trust, allotments in Burnage and the orchard which is part of the Fallowfield loop.

On Monday, I attended Manchester : A certain future conference. Although like many others, I had reservations about the event, I was encouraged that many people there were prepared to engage with the idea of no growth and wanted more joined up working. I won’t give you my full report (although let me know if you would like one). I will tell you about a best moment!

I had been given runner bean beans which were collected from last years crop by a friend’s father who recently died. He had been collecting the beans from each year’s crop and planting them the following year since 1986. His daughter wants the beans to be given to people who would continue this tradition.


I met Jayne, Director of Growboxgardens which supports a community allotment in Ancoats which involves local residents including 20 destitute asylum seekers. Jayne has a vision for a collective organic seed bank in Manchester; she is very worried about what Monsanto are doing to our seed stocks. I offered her (and others there some beans). This is what she wants to do with them:

‘I will give each of our Homeless gardeners a seed to plant as a seed of life and new beginnings….. once the seeds have grown we can use them every year and then distribute seeds amongst the community through our Organic Seed bank……if you have more spare, we have a lot of new beginnings to start.’

For me this is the essence of ‘living well,’ an important component in a steady state way of living, thanks Jayne.

Wednesday, we had an SSM stall at the Manchester Diocese Green and Gentle footprint exhibition.  Although attendance was disappointing; like the ‘A certain future conference’, it was excellent for networking. Nice feedback from Lydia Merryl from Manchester Environment Education Network (MEEN).

‘Your stall had some new thinking! The Wangari Maathai teaching materials  are wonderful. I’ll put them up on the MEEN web site and make sure the Growing Levenshulme People have them too. We need to work with All children to ensure we have a great homage to a wonderful woman. ‘


Only one person did not want to talk about steady state economics ideas (an economist!) and we got lots of interest for the conference we are proposing to have in the Autumn. One thing that I felt really comfortable about was promoting our 2 complementary reports; In Place of Growth, which focuses on Manchester and Living Well, on how we want to link with the rest of the world. Promoting the Wangari Maathai events felt so right as an example of how we want to link with and learn from the majority world. There was also loads of interest in the teaching aid on Wangari Maathai which my neighbour produced and has used and distributed after seeing the film ‘Taking Root.’ A brilliant fim about Wangari Maathai) This is also being used at the Woman Asylum Seekers Together writing group to commemorate Wangari and get some discussion on Steady State ideas.

Wednesday evening – 14 of us met in the waiting room at my doctors, which was collaboratively organised by my GP and myself. We watched Taking Root. We have had some lovely and helpful feedback.


‘It was such a lovely thing in so many ways.I met and talked with people so easily and hope there will be flowing energy as a consequence.’


‘ It was a lovely meeting, with the small surgery space filled, mostly existing activists in various campaigns. After the meeting, several of us discussed the dilemma of the existence several small groups with shared concerns, each with slightly different focus. There is also a well established and well organized local FoE group. As individuals who sympathize, we cannot practically support all of them! I feel this weakens the impact on both the public and the council & institutions that need to shift. I hope that there will be more collaboration or consolidation going forward where possible.’
We will be following up this point and several people wanted copies of the teaching aid and want to borrow ‘Taking Root’ and show it to others.

On Thursday evening, sixty people attended the Manchester launch of Beacons: stories for our not so distant future.   Beacons is a collection of twenty-one powerful and original stories by major UK authors. The stories are inspired by, and will be sold for the benefit of, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition. The first half was chaired by Beacons editor Gregory Norminton who read an excerpt of his story alongside contributors Clare Dudman and Rodge Glass.  They were three diverse pieces – largely disturbing, but offering some hope and suggestions that how it pans it will be shaped by how we act now.  The second half of the event involved the audience in choosing stories that had influenced them for discussion. This was imaginative and chaired by Jane Ward; it had a lovely involving energy, the discussion had depth and its success was suggested by people staying until the end! Climate Change Monthly also launched a short story competition on the night, which will encourage lots more short stories about predicaments of our age. See their website for details of the competition and the books that people chose to discuss.


I had a great week and feel that it was a really good way of ensuring Steady State is visible and we are having conversations in new places. Do get in touch if you would like to borrow a copy of Taking Root and/or would like a copy of the teaching aid.


Judith Emanuel

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