An ambitious vision for the Ouse Valley community to become a national pioneer in tackling climate change and sustainability has taken a major step forward with £150,000 of funding from the National Lottery.

The Ouse Valley CARES partnership has won £150,000 of funding from the National Lottery Community Fund to kickstart the project, which aims to bring the whole community together to help the environment and create a more sustainable planet for future generations to enjoy.

Ouse Valley CARES – which stands for Climate Action, Resilient Ecosystems, Sustainability – is spearheaded by the South Downs National Park Trust alongside partners including the South Downs National Park Authority, Lewes District Council, Transition Town Lewes, the Railway Land Wildlife Trust, Seaford Community Partnership, Community Energy South, OVESCO, 3VA and Sussex Community Development Association.

The development grant will help the partnership investigate, test and develop ways that the Ouse Valley can increase long-term resilience to climate change. The project area follows the river valley downstream from Barcombe, through Lewes and the villages of the lower Ouse Valley, to the coastal communities of Seaford, Peacehaven and Newhaven.

Detailed research and engagement across the community over the next year will then be used to work up a much larger National Lottery bid – potentially up to £2.5m – to deliver a series of long-lasting projects that help address the climate emergency and help nature flourish.

The delivery phase of the scheme, if successful, could feature a number of initiatives including:

  • Creating more green corridors across and between communities and connections to the wider countryside and the South Downs National Park, such as tree planting, wildflower corridors and improving habitat quality at nature reserves.
  • Projects to enhance wellbeing, knowledge and skills around climate change mitigation, such as community gardens, community orchards, training for groups and schoolchildren, climate cafes, Forest School development, sustainability advice and events.
  • Initiatives to reduce carbon footprint such as supporting residents in reducing energy bills, training volunteer ‘climate and energy champions’, identifying new sites for community-owned energy schemes and helping to increase accessibility to electric vehicles and green travel.
  • Projects to ensure ongoing funding support for the Ouse Valley through the establishment of two new funding schemes managed by the South Downs National Park Trust – one for nature recovery and the other for community-led projects that benefit nature or encourage sustainable living.

Around 650 projects from across the UK applied for lottery funding and the Ouse Valley was one of 15 successful applicants.

Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “This is a trailblazing project and will be the first of its kind in Sussex, so we’re hugely excited to be taking it forward as a partnership.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the increasing importance of green spaces and connecting with nature, so we know there’s a tremendous appetite locally for sustainability and climate action. We want to build on this renewed enthusiasm for helping our environment and create a long-lasting legacy for future generations.”

Councillor Matthew Bird, Cabinet Member for Sustainability at Lewes District Council, said: “I have been involved in work on climate change in Lewes district for nearly 20 years and I think this is the most exciting opportunity we have ever had.

“It is a chance to link existing actions and create new carbon reduction projects and make the district more climate resilient. To support this, a new website www.climateactionforum.org has been launched where residents can learn more and register climate actions they are involved in.”

Chris Rowland, Director of OVESCO, said: “This is fantastic news for community energy generation and low carbon travel, potentially providing new local employment opportunities working in partnership with stakeholders to reduce carbon emissions.”

Nick Gardner, Head of Climate Action at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, communities across Ouse Valley will be able to demonstrate what is possible when people take the lead in tackling climate change.

“This year we have been reminded that communities are best placed to understand their places and spaces, and so often play a vital role in responding in a crisis. This funding will directly support people to respond to the climate emergency in their local communities.”