The issues

Over the next ten years the UK will need to respond to the challenge of climate change by re-engineering the economic system, not only at the global and national level, but most importantly at the levels most immediately felt by individuals, families and communities through the environment on their doorsteps, the goods and services that they produce and consume, and their sense of well-being experienced.

The answer to what is a low carbon future which supports high levels of well-being is unknown. Our experience of delivering action research projects to support communities to understand their local economies, and identify new opportunities for local enterprise has shown that initially people feel unable to effect change in their local economy – the economy is just something that happens to you. And the sheer scale of the climate change challenge can have the effect of multiplying this feeling. Although we are seeing groups coming forward to grapple head on with these challenges through the transition town movement – what this carbon constrained local economy will look and feel like has yet to be understood.

Our experience of working on local economic development in the UK and internationally has demonstrated that supporting communities to explore practical ways they can effect change can be addressed by firstly presenting the issue in an understandable and engaging format, which then supports the identification of actions individuals and groups can take and are passionate about taking forward.

We are developing a new approach to supporting communities to change their local economy – focusing actions on the local high street – through a design lens of wellbeing, and reducing environmental impact. nef has developed a dynamic model of well-being comprising two main elements: feeling good and functioning well which come together to form an individuals experience of life. Feelings of happiness, contentment, enjoyment, curiosity and engagement are characteristic of someone who has a positive experience of their life. Equally important for well-being is our functioning in the world. Experiencing positive relationships, having some control over one’s life and having a sense of purpose are all important attributes of well-being.