Artist gears up for COP26 climate summit

The blue merpeople first sighted in Cornwall during the G7 summit will return again to our shores, this time for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November. 

Their discarded fishing tackle capes and waste plastic headdresses speak of the ocean’s mysterious depths. They are the creations of Sophie Miller, an Ocean Rebellion artist.

With a background in fine art, Sophie graduated and worked in the film sector for about a decade before becoming disillusioned about the impact the industry was having on the world. She worked as a teacher then started her own vintage lighting company, salvaging old lights and restoring them. 

[Read about other positive efforts to protect life below water]

After a few years, she realised this too was part of the problem, with consumerism fueling the climate crisis. So she dropped everything to dedicate her time to creative activism.

“The merpeople remind people of magic, they remind people that the ocean is precious and that as we turn away and ignore the destruction of marine ecosystems we’re killing their magic. For now, it’s still alive so we must do all we can to protect it,” Sophie says.

The piece of performance art enacted by the merpeople involves many hours of careful preparation. Costumes are made from waste fabric, old yoga mats and litter found washed up on beaches and in the sea. 

To source materials, she collaborates with Clean Ocean Sailing, a non-profit organisation led by volunteers who clean up the UK’s southern coastline in a refurbished sailing boat.

“There’s tonnes and tonnes of rubbish to use,” Sophie explains. “I live on a boat in Cornwall, so I often fish bits out of the estuary, find things when I’m beach cleaning or I pick through the huge bags at Clean Ocean I go and find the bits that look most interesting to bring back to my workshop to work with.”

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The piles of waste include toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, fishing nets, lighters, plastic tampon applicators and more. “It’s kind of gross,” she adds, “but once you get over that, you realise that what is most disturbing is when you get something branded from the 80s or the 70s because it’s been there for so long without decomposing at all.”

However sad, the salvaged plastic helps her create stunning works of art. “I get inspired by the materials that I find. One of my favourites that I made is constructed from a green shewee that looks a bit like a heart, with old gun cartridges and lighters around it like a sunburst.”

She feels that each mer-crown she creates has its own identity, telling stories of the people who once used them. “The toothbrushes, old pairs of glasses, cable ties and each bit of material has its own history,” she says. 

“Anyone who works in creative activism knows that there’s a kind of joy in the creativity, and gratitude for being able to use our skills to change things. In my work I know that each thing I put in a mer-crown isn’t being fed to a chick by its mother, or swallowed by a turtle so that feels very positive.”


The art project helping educate girls in Morocco

An inspiring art project in Morocco is helping to educate isolated young girls who live in the Atlas mountains. 

Nathalie Heller Loufrani was encouraged to get involved in the project and give back after living in Morocco for a few years, where she stumbled upon some Zindekh tapestries in her Riad, and “fell in love”. 

“From that moment on, I never stopped wanting to know more about these tapestries and those who made them,” she says. “This man who had discovered them by chance 25 years ago had perceived that there was something singular and unique about them. He had acquired a very large number of them without any particular purpose.”

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Nathalie learned that they were made by women in the Atlas mountains in Azilal Valley and decided to go and visit them and get involved – “We wanted to help these women,” she says. 

Throughout history, Berber women have ensured the survival of their cultural know-how and traditions by embroidering – they exchanged messages and secrets in the grooves of tapestries and offered themselves status. 

With raw materials, they managed to create real works of art, with complex geometric shapes, and wrote codes that men couldn’t read. When a woman is born in the Azilal Valley, she knows she has a mission at a very young age: to learn to weave to follow in the know-how of her mother, her grandmother, and the women who inhabited this land long before her.

When Nathalie went into the mountains to speak to the women about what they did, she learned that they would work on these tapestries and keep them in their houses. But some women told her they didn’t make them anymore – as they had access to other ways to make money and were more time poor. 

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Nathalie decided to collect the tapestries and started the project Lady Berbère along with her friend Stéphanie Cassan, where she exhibits the beautiful art and raises money for the women to become educated. “I have a collection of around 230 tapestries,” she says, “and there’s no other collection like this.”

She decided not to sell them, but wanted to keep them for their beauty. During the exhibitions, Nathalie shares information about the women in the mountains and people can donate money to the cause of the association Semnid, in charge of the education of isolated young girls.

“We decided to work with the Semnid Association to help and finance education for the girls,” she says. “We have already raised funds for 10 girls who now have a place where they can sleep, eat, and go to school. These young girls really want to go to school, rather than just stay at home and do tapestry.”

Based in Azizal, the Semnid association created in 2012, aims to support the education of rural girls between 12 and 18 years old. Now, three homes each welcoming 15 young girls, often orphans of father or mother, recreate a warm and studious family atmosphere. 

The association covers all living and tuition costs, accommodation, food, school materials, clothing. And thanks to Semnid, every young girl can continue her studies and keep a link with her family and her village.

Because these women live in the mountains, they have no opportunity to go to school. But with the funding from these exhibitions, they are provided a place to stay around one hour from their house, where they can also go to get educated. . 

Nathalie has had four exhibitions so far and hopes to make a book featuring photos of the tapestries in the future to raise money for the girls. Click here to find out more.


The woman making mindfulness accessible

Breathing. It’s something we do every single day, without even thinking about it. But it’s also something that can improve our mood and make us feel calmer. This, paired with mindfulness – where we focus on the present moment – can help people live happier lifestyles. 

Vidyamala Burch, is the co-founder of Breathworks, UK-based mindfulness organisation. She teaches people mindfulness-based approaches and tools to help them live well with pain, illness and stress. Importantly, she’s keen to reach people who may not have access to these tools, to help boost their wellbeing. 

She began teaching mindfulness after her own personal experience living with health challenges. To ensure all people have access, no matter their circumstances, Vidyamala established Breathworks as a charitable foundation in 2009.

[Learn more about the art and science of happiness]

“Through that we fund bursaries, course discounts, research and partnerships to enable wider accessibility and support for those who most need it,” she says. “Over the past 12 months, we’ve been able to double the number of bursaries we’ve awarded, and we hope this number will continue to increase.”

As part of the organisation’s work to help people regardless of income, Breathworks created the ‘Take Back Your Life’ course, which was developed by two of the teachers who wanted to create a more accessible version of their Mindfulness for Health course.

“Take Back Your Life is currently available as fully funded courses in Manchester and Tower Hamlets, so is free for all participants who join,” she says. “The course has been tailored to be accessible for all including for those with lower literacy or where English isn’t their first language.

“We hope to bring the course to lower income areas, minority groups and to those who have been who have been especially hit hard from financial and social repercussions of Covid-19. We welcome those who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to join our courses due to financial limitations. It’s also very relevant for anyone living with Long Covid.”

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These courses are so important to wellbeing, says Vidyamala, because many people struggle with their minds these days. “Mental health problems are on the rise and are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide,” she says.

“We are also faced with enormous global challenges such as the pandemic and climate change. It means we live in an increasingly uncertain world and anxiety and fear have increased for many of us.”

Mindfulness is a simple and accessible way to get your mind working with you rather than against you, she says. “Through simple training we can learn to dial back some of the automatic reactions that lead to so much distress and to build greater resilience and inner strength.” 

To find out more about the organisation, visit Breathworks’ website.


Zero waste acai bracelet creates change in the Amazon

Get inspired by crowdfunding projects that give back. Learn how entrepreneurs are solving the world’s problems by supplying the goods and services we need.

The Yawanawá are an indigenous community who have lived in the heart of the Amazon rainforest for hundreds of years. The forest provides them with medicine, shelter and the resources to live. 

To support them, the Together Band has partnered with the community of the Yawa to launch a crowdfunding project for ‘Yawa Bands’. They will be a symbol of hope for the forest. 

Together Band is part of the British sustainable brand BOTTLETOP, co-founded by Cameron Saul and Oliver Wayman, and driven by COO Jon Lee. Jon, 41, from east London, tells Smiley News: “The Yawa Together project aims to create long term artisanal employment for the Yawanawá community at the heart of the Amazon rainforest and in doing so, support the community in their continued stewardship of 250,000 hectares of Brazilian rainforest.”

What’s the project?

“The Yawa band is made from the seeds left over after the açai fruit is juiced for the community to consume,” says Jon. “The seeds are washed, drilled, sanded to shape, dyed, and then threaded onto a stretch rope that we’ve developed with Parley for the Ocean (recovering and recycling ocean plastic).

“We add a single seed that is cast from Humanium metal that is made from illegal firearms removed from communities in Central America.”

He explains this particular collaboration that is seeking funding through Kickstarter was sparked by a chance meeting that led to his business partner travelling to meet the community. He brought back Yawanawa crafts and raw materials that their team reviewed and designed a base range of products to work with the community on.

What’s the impact of it?

“It’s vitally important that we support indigenous communities, especially now as many are threatened across the world as governments and business try to remove their rights and exploit their ancestral lands for their natural resources – resources that these communities have preserved for the benefit of all people for generations,” explains Jon. 

“Currently in Brazil there’s a bill that is being debated that could remove the rights of indigenous communities to their lands and further devastate the natural world by logging and ranching on these lands. We hope our project will protect the cultural heritage of the Yawanawá people while providing sustainable artisan employment for the community.”

Inspiring business to do good

Jon hopes the collaboration establishes a template for cooperation that they can share with other communities and engage the public with to share their stories and mobilise people to stand beside indigenous peoples in their defence.

Support the crowdfunder project here

Could you make this happen in your community? Be part of the change. Or, if you, or someone you know, has launched a crowdfunding social enterprise project, email [email protected].


4 ways to future-proof your business

A progressive alliance of around 60 companies, Business Declares, drives some of the most ambitious climate action in the corporate world. Its members include major players such as Triodos Bank UK, Riverford Organics and The Body Shop.

Formed by senior leaders from the SME, B Corp and FTSE100 sectors, the not-for-profit is a significant voice in climate discussions, involving members in the UN Race to Zero team for the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). 

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“We believe that business has a major part to play in tackling the climate, ecological and social emergency,” explains its director, Ben Tolhurst. 

“We raise awareness across the business sector of the imperative to accelerate action to address climate change, biodiversity loss and social injustice: the imperative to future-proof every business by balancing profits with people and ethics, to live within planetary boundaries,” he adds. 

Through workshops, talks and sharing resources, this organisation shares vital knowledge and galvanises voices from the business community to drive regulatory change and build a resounding call for urgent political action. 

To understand how businesses can join this movement and contribute, here are their four top tips.

Understand and raise awareness

Business Declares urges corporations to build a culture in which staff feel able to openly discuss the climate, ecological and social crises, as well as to inform and educate employees on key issues.  

To share further advice on this, they offer workshops and talks for corporate events.  

Measure your carbon footprint

They believe it is vital that organisations understand their own carbon footprints. Its members offer a number of tools to help with this, including an employee survey and carbon footprint calculator.

Consider your ecological and social impact

Whilst getting to net zero is incredibly important, the organisation understands we must acknowledge the ecological and social impact of corporate activities too. On this basis, Business Declares encourages organisations to think about these areas, through events such as a recent webinar tackling offsetting. 

Develop and execute a plan 

To reach net zero, the organisation advises businesses to create plans that are transparent, auditable and publicly available. They should cover how a business will achieve net zero in a specified time frame, incorporating natural solutions, and applying these to throughout every area of operations. 

Business Declares urges companies to reconsider their client base depending how much they prioritise planetary objectives over profit alone. They also offer advice on how to decarbonise company websites.

Find examples of business plans to achieve net zero here.

More advice can be found at


This man is famous for his gorilla conservation work

Growing up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park, John Kahekwa was captivated by the gorillas living in the forest around his community. When he saw the suffering inflicted on these beautiful creatures by poachers, his initial instinct was to stop them. But quickly he learned that rather than opposing these people, he could only find a solution with their help.

This realisation led John to create the Pole Pole Foundation, an initiative to protect local habitats. It operates on the understanding that humans are intrinsically bound up with nature, so effective conservation work depends on support from local people. 

“Since creating the Pole Pole Foundation in 1992, my achievements include planting trees to create a kind of buffer zone, and working with communities to prevent them from poaching, cutting down trees and destroying the gorillas’ habitat,” he says.

‘Empty stomachs have no ears’

John’s concern for the natural world started early on. “As a youth I was so impressed by baby gorillas clapping their hands and playing among themselves, as well as the adults who roamed around and beat their chests,” he says. 

Witnessing the harm caused to them by poachers’ traps, he felt guilty on behalf of humanity. He couldn’t understand why his neighbours would act in such a destructive way.

[Read more stories about inspiring people protecting life on land]

“So I made a list of people who had been arrested more than 10 or 15 times for poaching and I asked them why they were doing this and destroying their habitats,” he says. 

John was still young at the time, and the poachers reacted angrily to his questions, seeing that he didn’t understand their own perspectives. While they depended on the surrounding National Park to survive, it had become the property of foreigners. 

“Then one of them said something I will never forget,” says John. “They said: ‘We cannot stop because empty stomachs have no ears’.”

Scaling up to save the planet

From then on, John began saving money to eventually help the gorillas as well as the local communities. Starting with a tip of $10 from an American tourist, he went on to sell T-shirts as souvenirs. Then in 1987 he got lucky, earning hundreds of dollars to play a role in the American drama, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’.

“From $10 I went to having $6,000,” he recounts, “and instead of buying a house for me and my wife, I decided to take a risk in order to save my friends, the gorillas, and help communities with all the wealth I had.”

‘Pole pole’ means ‘slowly, slowly’ in Kiswahili, and just as John slowly accrued the money to invest in this project, he slowly and carefully developed a strategy that would genuinely help both local people and nature.

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Since its launch in 1993, the Pole Pole Foundation has planted more than four million trees to preserve local biodiversity and habitats. Nowadays, for every tree that’s cut down, they plant 10 new ones. 

Meanwhile, they listen constantly to the needs of local people, who created a vegan club to prevent poaching and the spread of Ebola, which is often caused by eating bush meat. They also grow fruit trees, mushrooms and spirulina, a highly nutritious type of algae that’s effective for treating malnutrition.

The benefits of the foundation extend beyond this. After it was shortlisted for funding of £1 million from the Earthshot Prize, its team hopes to scale up their efforts and protect a greater extent of the Congo Basin, home to the world’s second largest rainforest and carbon sink after the Amazon.

Find more information about the Pole Pole Foundation at

To support their work, donate here.


This powerful smiley face created positive change

What does it mean to be happy? It’s a question many of us have asked ourselves. And it’s also one curators Laurie Britton Newell and George Vasey pondered when creating the Joy and Tranquility exhibitions at Wellcome Collection

The exhibitions are part of the museum’s On Happiness season, which shares free events and activities that celebrate the complexity of positive emotions. 

One of the powerful images shown in the Joy exhibition is a smiley face – created with people standing in a field – in the early 70s. The photograph was taken at Maryland University in America, the curators explain, and it was a peaceful mark of activism against the Vietnam war. 

[Find more Smiley News on our homepage for a dose of positivity]

‘Creating an image of positivity’

“At that point the war had been going on for a long time and many protests against it had turned violent,” the curators tell Smiley News. “The photographer, Steve Budman and his fellow students, decided to form a smiley face by holding hands and create an image of ‘positivity’.”

The curators discovered the photograph online and said it was a “eureka” moment. It had originally been published in a student newspaper, “but it’s never been seen before so we’re very happy for it to be in the exhibition”, they add.

The image encapsulates many of the core themes of joy, the curators say. “It captures the sense of what it means to come together to create change. We live in a world that can often feel very harrowing and the image suggests that a lot can be achieved by a commitment to positivity.”

Bringing together positive change

The hope for viewing this image is that people will reflect on what they would like to see change. “We’d also like people to reflect on the questions; who defines happiness and on what terms? Who is excluded from this narrative?” say Laurie and George. 

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“It’s important to say that smiling isn’t just an expression of feeling good, it can mean lots of things. Every generation reclaims the smiley face in different ways to signal what they want to see in the world as much as what is already in it — that tomorrow maybe a little better than today.”

What it means to feel good

The Joy exhibition, which accompanies the Tranquility exhibition, both take a critical look at what it means to feel good. “Central to our ambitions as curators was to question how communities have attempted to feel happy throughout history, often as a reprieve from difficulty and uncertainty,” they say. 

“We were also interested in the role of positive emotion on our body. We feel it’s important people are able to better understand where emotions come from and how they’re formed.”

In 2021 specifically, after the devastation of Covid, people are desperate for experiences that provide pleasure and sanctuary, they say. 

“We want people to come back into Wellcome Collection and feel good while reflecting on what that may mean to them. The exhibition has been curated to create a range of different experiences for visitors that immerse them in our journey through this complex topic.

“People are ready for some joy.” 

Find out more about the On Happiness season at Wellcome Collection here.


How ‘Hear My Voice’ is bringing people together

Social media is being used for good to bring together people who have experienced childhood domestic violence and abuse at home.

The charity Free Your Mind CIC, is asking people to come together on social media to raise awareness, using the hashtag #HearMyVoice on Sunday 3 October.

Founded by Natasha Benjamin in 2013, following her own experience of growing up around domestic abuse, Free Your Mind is the only charity that works directly with children and young people who have witnessed domestic abuse in the home, and the fallout of this on their mental health. 

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All peer support workers within the charity have lived experiences of domestic abuse in their homes growing up – so the children they work with feel listened to and supported by them. 

“We feel passionately that the issue of domestic abuse, and it’s longer-term effects on children and young people, needs to be brought to the forefront,” says Natasha. 

One in three children will have an issue with mental illness directly linked to the experience of seeing domestic violence at home, with 1.8 million children being affected across the UK. 

The non-profit is aiming to be able to support more children through more donations, to give children the tools they need to look after their happiness and wellbeing, while promoting the importance of having healthy relationships. 

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Those who have grown up with domestic violence, domestic abuse and mental illness, know and have seen life in ways others haven’t. They know pain and a perspective so many never will. 

By launching this campaign, in which we are asking people to share a photo of themselves holding up a sign in front of their mouths stating #HearMyVoice, they hope to raise awareness of this important social issue. 

You can get involved on social media, or support the charity by donating


This interactive map could save nature

Exploring Restor’s interactive map, your eyes are opened to a world of possibilities for protecting nature. This innovative project aims to connect restoration workers around the world with those who can help them. 

As a mark of its potential, the map is up for an international award, the Earthshot Prize, for which five winners will gain £1 million to take their work to the next level.

From the 15 inspiring finalists, Restor’s strengths include its roots in rigorous research that unveiled a need to connect restoration work internationally. 

“Restor was an idea born out of a science lab at a university in Zurich, ETH Zurich,” explains Restor CEO Clara Rowe. “Researchers there published a paper in 2019, estimating how much tree restoration could happen around the world. It helped conceptualise the magnitude of restoration potential and its benefits. 

[Discover more positive initiatives to protect life on land]

“But crucially, it also catalysed many questions from people from all over the world, reaching out to ask for advice. So that triggered the idea for creating a place where data was easily accessible and Restor is that place.”

On the platform, there’s something for everyone to get involved with. Those wishing to support restoration work can discover local volunteering opportunities or projects that need funding. Existing initiatives can connect with one another to share knowledge. Meanwhile, conservationists can select a specific plot of land they’d like to focus on to uncover vital data about the plant species growing there and plan new work. 

Mapping pathways for protecting nature

From tree planting initiatives in India, to economic wellbeing projects in Kenya, the map hosts a multitude of positive efforts around the world that are vital for protecting the planet’s future. 

Clara explains: “It’s estimated that restoration has the potential to draw down 30% of accumulated global carbon emissions and is a key component of many nations’ climate mitigation goals by 2030. So from the broader climate perspective, restoration is a huge part of the solution to keep us to the 1.5°C limit of global warming that we need to achieve.” 

[Read more good news stories about the people transforming the world for the better]

In addition to the environmental benefits, restoration is also socially useful. “Well restored wetlands and mangroves are a huge part of protecting local communities from the risk of flooding and other climate-related disasters,” she adds. “For example, if you use more regenerative agricultural methods, you’re more likely to keep water in the soil and build community resilience to droughts, which of course protects the local economy.”

With so much to gain from restoration, the platform aims to enable and accelerate this vital work at an unprecedented scale. As Clara says, “Restor is about creating a global movement and putting everything that’s needed to support restoration work in one map.”

Find further information and explore the map at


‘We must learn what solidarity really means’

You’re reading Patrons of the Planet, a weekly series where we hear from climate heroes of the global south and the world’s indigenous communities.

Since the age of 16 I’ve been building awareness of our climate’s trajectory and what possible solutions we can adopt. While in the beginning, I thought business was key, I’ve come to believe that it’s our connectivity, support networks and positive human relationships that will save us.

It all started while I was still at school, working on a project to discover how we can better recycle plastic bags, gathering data and presenting it in graphs. At that point I thought we could uplift ourselves and solve everything through entrepreneurship. 

I went on to campaign for various climate groups, but what really solidified my commitment to the climate was when I came to understand that my family’s history of dislocation was due to the climate crisis. This taught me a difficult truth – that eventually, I’ll have nowhere else to run.

[Read more positive news stories of hope about the people combatting climate change]

For my family, the repeated pattern of having to move began when my grandparents had to emigrate from India to Uganda because unstable weather patterns destroyed their crops. Then Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of all the Asian people from Uganda. Luckily, my grandparents and my Ugandan-born father were in India visiting relatives at the time, but this meant they couldn’t return and they lost their home and livelihood. 

After I was born, my parents were forced to move to the UK because of further crop failure in India. So with the crop failures we’re starting to see here in the UK, I’m the representation of a climate migrant as the third generation that’s going to have to engage in conversation about how to survive should my food and shelter be put at risk.

Building climate resilience

Over time, my faith in business gave way to a belief that we need to drive systemic change and strengthen communities. Today I try to engage the people around me, including people of Asian heritage as well as others from the Global South, in the climate movement.

Through art, events organising, logistics, sharing resources and more, I am attempting to build a space in environmentalism for black and brown people, empowering people of different cultures. 

This has seen me designing artwork featuring text in different languages. It’s pushed me to reach out to and do interviews with media outlets that white environmentalists don’t usually consider sending their press releases to. All this work is aimed at bringing people together.

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Ultimately, we need to envision the future as we want it to be. That will involve our communities coming together, looking after one another to ensure we are safe and healthy. Because I can tell you now, my brothers and sisters in the Global South are struggling to feed themselves. This means that eventually our food supplies here will also shrink. 

To get by, we must learn what solidarity really means. It requires us to see each other as the same, as equals. It means sharing power, resources, and privilege. There is no future without all of us working together. 

So this is my plea to everyone: get to know your community, build resilience, be prepared, try to stop global warming from escalating, but if it should happen, know your tribe and how you’re going to get through this.

Patrons of the Planet is a weekly series to amplify the voices of heroes on the frontline of climate campaign work, as told to Blyth Brentnall. Every Tuesday, we meet individuals from the global south and indigenous groups who have risen above increasing adversity to support their communities, conserve nature and protect the planet for future generations.