Good faith pays off in Tower Hamlets

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is working with Muslim faith groups to encourage them to recycle more, and helping to change hearts and minds in the process

Reaching out to faith groups to boost recycling rates is vital for those local authorities that have ethnically diverse populations. In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 45% of the population are Muslim, and the council realised it needed to form close ties with these religious groups if it wanted to spread the recycling message across all parts of the local community effectively.

Speaking at a recent London Remade local authority network meeting in London, Robin Beattie, head of strategy programmes, environment & culture at London Borough of Tower Hamlets, said that the borough has 32 mosques, which between them reach a combined audience of tens of thousands every week. "Faith groups are large self-defined groups with their own developed communications infrastructure. They communicate to a large audience which is more open to direction from their religious leaders," he explained.

However, gaining the trust and 'buy in' factor from faith groups presented a major challenge to the council. Beattie noted that the groups are "harder to reach through standard marketing approaches" and spoke of a need to "reconnect the community" post the July 7 London bombings.

To address this, the council teamed up with a number of key partners - the London Sustainability Exchange, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology & Environmental Sciences, the London Islamic Network for the Environment, and the Tower Hamlets Council of Mosques. According to Beattie, these partnerships "allowed us to get closer to the mosques to encourage their engagement".

The aims of the project were threefold: to mobilise Muslims to recycle more; to give them information on how and where to recycle; to encourage greater levels of environmental stewardship. For added relevance, the project sought to link the recycling message with the teachings of Islam. It included a targeted programme of fun arts-based workshops for children study circles, and a series of outreach workshops for Muslim women's groups.

Packed with information
A package was offered to eight mosques, five of which took up the offer. It included an Imam recycling toolkit to support delivery of a sermon, a staffed information stall distributing recycling sacks, an 'Islam and the Environment' lecture, plus arts and recycling sessions for young people. For the Islamic women's groups, there were themed coffee time sessions, hosted by expert speakers, with giveaway goody bags. Six groups took advantage of this offer, and overall, the eight-week programme reached 20,000 people.

The programme delivered various positive outcomes - 94% of the coffee morning attendees said that they would lead a greener lifestyle. In addition, 32% of the sermon audience stated that they would start to recycle, and 93% of sermon attendees said that faith-based environmental messages would encourage behaviour change in their own lives.

However, certain barriers existed such as rivalry between mosques. "Where we tried to get mosques to come together and discuss issues ... it was very difficult to achieve," observed Beattie. That said, he was encouraged by the "great enthusiasm and hunger for information from the Muslim community" for initiatives such as these.

Interestingly, during the duration of the faith-based programme, doorstep recycling rates from non-white residents in the borough increased from 76% to 80% over a five-month period. "Overall, recycling rates increased by 3% in five months - that is the largest recycling jump that Tower Hamlets has achieved over such a period of time," reported Beattie.

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