Glastonbury Town Hall’s first People’s Assembly

Blog post, November 4 2019

The first People’s Assembly to take place in Glastonbury Town Hall was held on Saturday 26th October. This format is used by Extinction Rebellion, who promote it as a ‘radical new form of democracy, that puts decision making back in the hands of the people’. Well over 80 people arrived, more than could be fitted into the small hall, and for the next Assembly the main hall has been booked. Publicity leaflets had invited people to take part in a process to create a ‘resilient and sustainable community’.

This followed on from the Climate Emergency Open Day held in September, and was organised by the Town Council’s Climate Emergency Committee. There was a general sense of ‘positive energy’, and most people felt pleased that a start had been made on this important process, though there are many difficulties to be overcome before it works well.

The Assembly itself was preceded by four short talks: Independent Town Councillor Paul Lund began by speaking about the United Nations climate conferences; Mendip District Councillor Tom Ronan, who holds the portfolio for Strategic Policy and Climate Change, outlined the District Council’s proposed plans; Bruce Garrard (me!) introduced Professor Jem Bendell’s concept of Deep Adaptation, and spoke about community resilience; and Somerset’s climate change adaptation officer Shelly Easton, who works for the Somerset Wildlife Trust, outlined practical steps she is taking with local farmers and landowners, and members of the wider community.

This was followed by the assembled people being divided into small groups to discuss proposals to address transport, food, and the natural environment; proposals were then fed back to the whole group. Time ran out before they could be prioritised, but the intention will be to do this next time.

At a feedback meeting of the committee the following week, problems were acknowledged: besides the lack of space, there was a lack of experience and understanding as to how the Assembly should work, on behalf of most of the people taking part and some of the organisers, with a consequent lack of clarity as to the intended outcomes; and there was also a sense that the meeting was rushed, with insufficient time to really get to grips with the issues.

Creating a comprehensive plan to enable a truly resilient community is an extremely challenging task, but the intention is there and by January, when the next People’s Assembly is scheduled to take place (Saturday January 25th), a more detailed framework will have been discussed.