Amy Bray: I Started A Conservation Charity At 16

Young activist talks to pebble about starting a charity and the power of people to create positive change.

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Have you ever felt so passionate about a cause that you wanted to start a movement?

Horrified by the impact of plastic pollution in the ocean, 16-year-old Amy Bray founded the charity Another Way, to help people make positive changes for the planet.

Three years on, the charity teaches schools about sustainable swaps, hosts annual tree planting events and it recently received funding to scale up its projects to reach wider communities.

pebble’s Features Editor, Francesca Brooking, spoke to Amy about plastic, trees and the power of collaboration to create change.

Can you tell me a little bit about Another Way?

Amy Bray: I founded Another Way back in January 2019 when I was 16 years old.

Our aim is to empower individuals to live more sustainably, more ethically, and to unite communities towards positive change.

We believe that to create a long-term sustainable world, we need action from individuals, governments, and businesses collectively, and we need it now.

We inspire people to change their behaviour and their everyday lives through talks, awareness sessions, leaflets, online resources and certifications.

We also have two zero waste shops in Cumbria which help people transition towards a zero waste lifestyle.

We run a community tree planting project and we’ve planted over 30,000 trees now with our community.

We also have programs for young people which encourage them to form contacts and networks so they can feel supported in making changes in their communities.

What inspired you to start a charity?

AB: All my life I’ve been fascinated by the marine environment and I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist.

When I was 12, I read a book called The Ocean of Life by Calum Roberts which is about the threats that our oceans face from overfishing to microplastic pollution and ocean acidification.

It opened my eyes to what is going on in our environment. It made me worried that what I loved and wanted to study was rapidly disappearing and probably wouldn’t be there when I grew up.

I started emailing my MP, asking the government to put a tax on plastic bags and phoning Sainsbury’s to ask them to stop stocking unsustainable tuna.

I also took SpongeBob SquarePants to the top of Helvellyn to campaign against BP drilling for oil in the Amazon.

I quickly realised that while I was asking other people to do something, I was still using resources unsustainably in my own life.

I was still eating breakfast that came wrapped in plastic, brushing my teeth with a plastic toothbrush and eating meat.

I challenged my family to go plastic free back in 2016. That was difficult because it was before Blue Planet, Greta Thunberg and the school strike movement.

Plastic pollution and climate change weren’t at the forefront of the media.

People thought we were strange when we turned up at the deli or the greengrocers with our own containers and bags instead of buying packaged food.

Now three or four years later they are offering those options to customers.

It just shows the power of one individual’s actions and how they can escalate into a whole community.

I set up an Instagram account called ‘Devotion to Ocean’ where I posted swaps that we made at home.

I also started a plastic-free shop at school during my break so people could see the other eco-friendly options out there.

I gave assemblies, talked on the radio but at school, I felt alone. While people supported me verbally, they didn’t support me actively.

So I took my awareness sessions to other schools and scout groups.

I created a whole set of interactive activities focused on plastic pollution its impact on our ocean and what we can do to prevent it.

People found out about it all over Cumbria and I started getting bombarded with emails every week until I was missing three afternoons of school a week during Sixth Form.

In January 2019, I decided to formalise the project into a charity.

What are the challenges you’ve come across when educating people about sustainable living?

AB: Taking actions in our own lives can be overwhelming, especially when we look at the big picture.

12 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year.

It’s easy to think “how on earth are my own actions going to change that” but each of those pieces of plastic is made up of something that we’ve used and discarded.

If everyone stopped buying single-use plastic bags or using plastic toiletries in the bathroom, then all those pieces of plastic would stop entering our oceans.

The best way to get this concept across is to make it super simple so that people can connect their options with global problems and realise their individual actions can have a huge impact.

People often think that it’s the responsibility of other countries too. I always hear: “Why should we change when China and India are not changing?” all the time in my talks.

But we are all responsible for our future and each one of us needs to take responsibility before we start influencing others to change too.

Action starts from within.

We can take it to our friends, family, colleagues and people we meet. We can then use our voices to help inspire change in governments and businesses.

People often look at businesses and governments to lead the way in fighting climate change but to what extent do you think the power lies with communities and local people?

AB: Tackling the climate, and ecological crises require a two-pronged approach.

Communities and individuals need to change their behaviour because we can’t expect to live in a net zero world if we are eating burgers every day, flying around the world and buying the latest iPhone every year.

That’s just not feasible because our current level of consumption can’t match a sustainable world. Communities that act together to form more sustainable ways of living are hugely potent.

That said, we also need governments and businesses to make it easier for us as individuals to live more sustainably.

We need things like public transport, insulated houses and electric vehicles to become more affordable and we need the infrastructure to be in place.

That’s down to the government.

We’ve seen that they can listen to the voices of the people.

Four years ago, when I went plastic-free, going down to the supermarket was depressing because it was so hard to buy anything without plastic.

Now, supermarkets have made it easier because people have shown they cared.

It’s still not perfect but a lot of supermarkets have loose fruit and vegetables so things are changing slowly. But the rate of change from the top down is just too slow.

We are in an emergency and it’s down to individuals to show what an emergency is and how we react to it.

Looking at the debate around the Just Stop Oil campaign, do you think there’s a divide between young people and older generations when it comes to climate change?

AB: I personally don’t think that there’s as big a divide as the media sometimes likes to make out.

I know so many older people who have been fighting against climate change all their lives and they’re just getting worn down because they’ve been campaigning for so many decades and they haven’t been listened to.

But I think that young people have provided a new movement which has sparked the media’s attention as well, which is powerful.

Lifestyle changes like going vegan, moving away from fast fashion and buying secondhand clothes are emerging in the younger generation.

Social media is a great tool for bringing together global change and collaboration across countries and movements like Friday’s Future.

It can’t be said for all young people though. When I was at school, there were people who couldn’t care less about the environment or being plastic free. They’re more interested in themselves and their popularity.

But in order to truly achieve change, we need collaboration across generations regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion or background.

We all need to take responsibility and unite to make the world that we want.

Congratulations on receiving a grant from the Tree Council for their Talk to the Hedge programme. Can you talk a little bit about the work you’re doing planting trees and hedges in Matterdale?

AB: For our launch in 2019, we ran an event called Another Waynwright Day where we got 600 people to climb up the Wainwright Mountains in the Lake District to celebrate conservation, individual change and coming together as a community that cared for our planet.

We signed a collective pledge to the UN, we had activities on the top of the mountains such as brass bands, picnics, quizzes and yoga.

Although we gave advice on how to travel to the mountains with public transport or by cycling or walking, we realised there was going to be some carbon footprint involved in transport.

I wanted to offset that carbon footprint by planting trees for everyone who attended.

We partnered with the Tree Council and a local community interest company called Ullswater Catchment Management CIC which is run by a local farmer conservationist who works with farmers around the Ullswater Valley to help them increase the nature-friendly aspect of farming.

We identified a piece of land and ended up planting three trees for every person who took part in the day.

It was fantastic to see school children, farmers, local people and community groups working together to plant trees.

Often, you can’t see the global impact that our individual actions have but with trees, you can come back in 20 years and see how they’ve grown.

After that, we decided to run two tree planting events every year. We’ve mainly done it with grants from the Tree Council.

We’ve also started to get some other donations from individual and local businesses so we’ve managed to escalate this project to 30,000 trees over the last three years.

Every time, we get more volunteers wanting to come and plant with us. It just shows how many people care about our local landscape.

“We’ve lost 75% of the world’s insects since 1970”

Why do you plant trees in hedges?

AB: A lot of our tree planting has been in hedges. We planted a mixture of blackthorn, hawthorn and oaks in the hedges themselves.

They are powerful tools for connecting ecological landscapes which have otherwise been fragmented due to agriculture.

Hedges create roads between different woods and copses of trees which help animals travel safely between them.

They also provide lots of food for insects and birds which are depleting rapidly from our landscape.

In fact, we’ve lost 75% of the world’s insects since 1970. That has huge and potentially disastrous consequences for global food security and ecosystems.

By planting hedges which flower every year, we will provide a habitat for insects in our valley. Hopefully, we can improve the natural landscape for so many species.

Hedges have a cooling effect, capture carbon in the soil and increase soil quality too.

They provide shade for livestock and they can also help reduce flooding which is a huge issue in Cumbria.

Do you have any advice for people who feel powerless and want to make a difference for the planet?

AB: It’s so important to play to your own strengths.

If you’re passionate about the environment then you can reflect that in anything that you’re good at such as sewing, baking, gardening, public speaking, chatting to people, organising local sustainable hubs or changing things in your own life.

The power in the environmental movement comes from individual passions and talents coming together.

There’s such a diversity of ways we can tackle the climate crisis because it’s such a complex problem.

Start with something you’re already doing and see how you can reflect the environment and climate change in that.

Look at ways to change in your own life and take it step by step. We have a great program called ‘30 Steps to Another Way’ which divides sustainable living into six categories and 30 easy steps.

You can then challenge yourself to do something more each week. Start a conversation with your friends or family or join a local community group that already exists.

If you’re more into activism, go on a march or make banners. There are a thousand different ways you can use your voice and your talents to contribute to a better planet.

If you feel overwhelmed, it’s so important to take care of yourself too. Take a break, go for a walk out in nature and remind yourself what you’re fighting for.

All these things can help grow inner peace which gives us the strength to make a better world. That’s something I’ve learnt in my activist journey.

It’s so important to take time for yourself as well. Rest gives you more time to be productive and allows you to be more available to the world.

So take it step by step. We always say that if one person were to spread a message to 10 people in one day and the next day those 10 people each spread that message to 10 more and so on, it would only take 10 days for the whole world to be inspired.

No action and no person are ever too small or insignificant to make a change. It starts now and it starts with every one of us.

What are your future plans for Another Way?

AB: We’ve received some funding to take on our first paid employee, which is a really exciting step for the charity because it’s been solely run by volunteers and donations up until this point.

I’m now at university studying biology and I graduate next year.

I’ve realised that juggling a charity and a degree is difficult so taking someone on will help us increase the impact of our projects and roll out more projects in the next couple of years.

We’re also keen to host another Waynwright Day but make it a national event which will hopefully bring individual lifestyle change into the forefront of the media again and celebrate communities united for change.

Get the ’30 Steps to Another Way,’ pledge, donate and volunteer at Another Way.