Schools: Eco Committee

St Peter’s Roman Catholic High School in Manchester has an Eco Committee comprising of 100 students - approximately 10% of the entire school. It has been working hard to cut the school’s carbon footprint and to engage with the wider community on ways to join the fight for the environment.

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St Peter’s RC High School, Diocese of Salford

St Peter’s Roman Catholic High School in Manchester has been very busy in response to Laudato Si’. St Peter’s Eco Committee began with with only seven students. Now it has 100, approximately 10% of the entire school, and has been working hard to cut the school’s carbon footprint and to engage with the wider community on ways to join the fight for the environment.

Started through the Chaplaincy Gift Team, the Eco Committee runs in partnership with sustainability education consultant James Ridgway and the school’s lay chaplain Mary White. They hold their meetings in the school chapel, and while they are sure to keep things grounded in Laudato Si’ and care for creation, the students have not been content to simply sit down and discuss these issues. While students appreciated the opportunity to learn more, they have demanded action, determined “to do something to help save the environment”.

Halving the carbon footprint

The students’ activities have included planting trees, building ‘bug hotels’, energy monitoring, switch-off fortnights, litter picks and more, and through these efforts they have managed to cut St Peter’s carbon footprint in half!

In 2018 the Eco Committee invited Manchester Environmental Education Network (MEEN) to work with them and the two have collaborated to engage a wider audience on environmental issues. The St Peter’s Eco Committee was later invited to talk about climate change with younger pupils from St Richard’s Primary School. The team gave a presentation to convey the basic science, then ran a selection of games before working together on action planning for their schools.

The Eco Committee has also made trips to the University of Manchester, delivering presentations to students and meeting with trainee teachers to discuss methods of teaching climate change. James Ridgway noted with pride the transformation he had seen in “some of our shyest students”, as in a matter of months with the Eco Committee, they gained the confidence necessary to give presentations in a university environment and to speak with complete strangers about the issues they cared about. One of his proudest moments was when the students’ efforts were honoured with the Spirit of Manchester Award.

This work has not been without its challenges, of course. The pandemic has meant disruptions to the Eco Committee’s meetings, as students from different year groups were no longer allowed to mix during lunchtime, and equipment used on school grounds had to be decontaminated for each person using them. Despite these challenges, the students at St Peter’s have not been deterred. On the 15 June, they held their first Eco-Schools meeting in 2021 (in-person meetings having not been possible). With staff support and free materials from MEEN, over 30 students watered and composted new birch trees and they have even designated a new bee-friendly garden to be developed during autumn 2021.

What’s next?

Pre-covid, St Peter’s Eco Schools Committee won 250 free trees from City of Trees. Planting should commence in the Autumn term and they have also negotiated free tree donations for three of their feeder schools. They plan to restart energy monitoring and switch off fortnight again in October/November.

They are also going to be testing resources for the Laudato Si’ Centre and the Diocese of Salford, and trialling a new carbon footprint calculator for MEEN. This calculator will be distributed to every school in Manchester through Manchester City Council, allowing for friendly competition between schools as they try to lower their carbon footprint.

St Peter’s, for their own measure, hope to offset their remaining school carbon footprint to make St Peter’s a zero-carbon school next term.

James Ridgway hopes to see more networks being developed. He notes that while there has been lots of important discussion in the environmental and sustainability community over solutions to our current environmental crisis, enough discussion has now taken place. James wants to see information about what to do and how to do it fast, spread through Catholic communities at a leadership level, a staff level and a school-to-school level.

Covid may have slowed things down a little for the students at St Peter’s but from the looks of things they will be plenty busy in the coming year.

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