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WWF on ARC: Manchester’s green plan calls for action

WWF News: March 2004:

The Manchester diocese covers a large area in the north-west of England that includes Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Salford and parts of Stockport and Wigan. It has some 300 parishes and 199 schools under its jurisdiction.

By Peter Denton

The Diocese of Manchester, home to more than two million people, has embarked on a far-reaching plan that will make it Britain’s leading “environmental diocese”.

Under the plan – which is sponsored by WWF and brokered by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) – the diocese is calling for action and change in areas covering lifestyle, socially responsible investment, renewable energy, recycling, energy-efficient travel, use of natural resources such as water, and buying products made in accordance with the principles of sustainability.

The plan is being driven by the Bishop of Hulme, the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, who for many years has been closely involved in developing the role of the Church in urban regeneration. “We want to ‘green’ every parish in the diocese, make each one more environmentally efficient, and help individual members of the community to take responsible decisions about their lifestyles,” the Bishop said. “And by setting this example, we also want to put pressure on local authorities, because when it comes to thinking about the environment, most of them are lamentably behind.”

Major landowner

Like most dioceses, Manchester is a major landowner. It owns 355 churches as well as church halls, churchyards, administrative buildings, schools, vicarages, glebe land and other properties. By developing sustainable practices in these areas alone, savings could be substantial and benefits to the environment considerable.

Added to which, many churchyards are of great community value. “Some are ecological open spaces, and I would like to see them become more ‘available’ to the public as open spaces,” Bishop Lowe said. “Then there is the community role of many church buildings. Many could be used far more than they are at present, and it’s something I want to discuss with the parishes.”

The environmental plan isn’t aimed only at the diocese’s Christians. Manchester is also home to one of the largest Moslem communities in Britain and the largest Jewish population outside London. Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, Asian and central European communities are also well-established, each with their own faiths. “So we want to celebrate the environment, which is part of the Creation,” explained Bishop Lowe. “It bonds the many religions together as a source of unity.”

John Smith, ARC’s project manager, was a leading light in drawing up the plan. He will be working with the diocese over the next year or so, and will monitor progress “to ensure that we don’t take on too much too quickly”. This was a remarkable opportunity to advance the environmental message, he said, and to speak directly to hundreds of thousands of people who have a huge cross-section of expertise between them.

WWF is among the plan’s sponsors. “It’s an outstanding example of thinking globally and acting locally,” said Peter Martin, WWF’s Director of Development.


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