There’s been some big changes to CAG Oxfordshire over the last year, as we have transitioned to become an independent organisation, democratically and cooperatively owned and run by our members. But what but do these changes mean, and why did they happen in the first place? We sat down with Marta Lomza, the co-chair of our new board, to have a chat about these changes and explore what the new decade could bring.
RC: Hi Marta, thanks for joining us today, so for those who don’t already know, what is the CAG Oxfordshire Network?
ML: Community Action Groups Oxfordshire is a network of over 70 community led groups and businesses taking practical action to build a more sustainable, connected and healthy Oxfordshire. The CAG network began in 2001 so it has been going for 19 years.
RC: Wow, that’s quite some time, and what kind of things do these groups do?
ML: Initially community action groups focused mainly on reducing waste, however over time our groups have diversified and now take action to make Oxfordshire more sustainable in a number of different ways. We have an architecture co-op designing community led housing solutions, a community owned children’s centre and cafe, a bike powered poetry library, refill shops, renewable energy projects, a bike co-op, a Library of Things, and lots of groups working to build community and live more sustainably in their locality.
RC: What’s the value of these groups coming together in a network?
ML: I think working on climate change can often feel quite challenging and overwhelming. The scale of the problem can make it seem like you can never do enough. But when you are part of a bigger network, you can see that your actions, alongside others can have a really big impact. Being part of a network makes you feel less alone and connected to others in what you are doing and it creates great opportunities for learning and collaboration. By being part of the CAG network, you can also access a lot of support and help from the staff team.
RC: Tell us a bit more about the role of the staff team in the network?
ML: The small staff team exists to provide support and advice to groups in the network and to keep the network running and developing smoothly. They help groups get set up in the beginning, provide advice and mentoring to help groups running their meetings effectively, resolve conflicts, or develop business plans. They also create weekly newsletters, do social media, run workshops, apply for funding, and ensure groups are connected and learning from one another.
RC: So who is this staff team accountable to?
ML: So from 2001 until the end of 2019 the staff team were part of a Bristol based consultancy called Resource Futures. Resource Futures created CAG Oxfordshire back in 2001 and supported the Oxford staff team from Bristol until the end of 2019. This meant that the CAG Oxfordshire team were accountable to the management and board at Resource Futures. But over the years a desire developed for the Oxford team to become independent, self managed and more accountable to the groups and network they support in Oxfordshire.
As of December 2019 CAG Oxfordshire became an independent organisation, set up as a co-operative. The members of the co-operative are the community businesses and groups that make up the network. These members elect people from the network to a board. The staff team is now accountable to this board, of which I am a co-chair.
RC: And why do you think this change was important?
ML: CAG Oxfordshire is very much about making positive change happen at the local level, so both the staff and members of the network felt it was important that the staff team was accountable to people based in Oxfordshire and not elsewhere. The network is also very much about things being owned and led by the community, so we wanted to reflect that in how our network was run. There was a strong desire for democracy and participation: the members of the network themselves will be shaping the strategy and making key decisions. At this time, when a lot of people feel like they don’t have control over their future, co-operatives provide an opportunity for people to feel empowered and to have agency again.
RC: Absolutely! And who pays for the staff team that supports the network?
ML: We are very lucky to have had funding and support from Oxfordshire County Council since 2004, they have been the main funder of our work and very supportive. Oxfordshire County Council will continue to fund our work moving forward, but this shift to become an independent organisation also means we can start to look for funding from other sources too.
RC: And finally, what do you think 2020 and the new decade holds in store for CAG Oxfordshire?
ML: I think we are at a very exciting and critical time for climate action. As a result of a lot of grassroots work, such as the student climate strikes or Extinction Rebellion, last year saw a huge rise in climate action and awareness. We’ve had a big increase in interest in our work at both a local and national level, so I think our activities will continue to grow in diversity and impact. My hope is that Oxfordshire will become a leader in implementing changes to counteract the climate breakdown, and that CAGs will be one of the main driving forces behind this process.