ASKEW MAG : MEET YOUR NEIGHBOURS : Fiona Anderson Leadership Coach & Campaigner



Interviewed by Jo Reynolds

When did you move here?


Where did you grow up?

My dad was in the army so I lived abroad till I was 10, in Hong Kong, Singapore and Germany.

You've just launched Askew Road Plastic Free, an initiative to reduce plastic use by local shops and shoppers. How are you doing?

We've started with a listening campaign, listening to shopkeepers. Some are already taking steps. Ben at The Monkey Puzzle has swapped to paper straws. Eddie at Sainsbury's puts the plastic bags behind the till so people have to ask. Daniella at Costa Coffee asks people to take their cup back. Andrew at Detour's takes 20p off a coffee if you take your own cup.

There are unintended consequences of the government's plastic bag policy

What are you asking shoppers to do?

We're trying to change our throwaway thinking, to kick the single-use habit. We ask people to do three things: one, take a reusable bag; two, buy loose fruit and veg; and three, get a water bottle.

Is the bag message not getting through?

The supermarkets tell us less than half of shoppers bring a bag. The trouble is we've become so used to the convenience. The supermarkets now charge for bags but there are unintended consequences of the policy. Research suggests that the average household has 40 reusable bags and they're made of plastic that's even stronger. And the number of water bottles we use in this country is amazing. It's why Sadiq Khan is trying to reintroduce water fountains.

The government has promised restrictions from next year to single-use plastic straws, earbuds and stirrers (5bn, 2bn and 300m used each year in the UK). Why can't we leave it to central government?

The government is really late to the party. The French are way ahead. They've banned many plastics for 5 years. The problem is the big decisions like the Heathrow third runway have to be central, and shops must listen to their head offices. But we can chip away at a local level.

How zealous are your daily routines?

I don't pretend to be a paragon. I've become vegetarian in the last couple of years but I draw the line at vegan as I missed cheese too much when I tried it for Lent! I always carry a bag and I recycle properly. I went to the Wandsworth recycling centre and they said that people don't always rinse their stuff, which contaminates everything if the binman doesn't spot it. Hounslow use separate boxes and I asked Hammersmith and Fulham why we can't do the same but they say there are too many flats.

Do you use a bamboo toothbrush, silk dental floss, and beeswax fabric instead of cling film?

None of those. I'm finishing a roll of cling film at the moment rather than waste it, but I usually just put a plate over leftovers. I've looked into beeswax fabric. It's quite expensive. I'm concerned people think they can't do this without expensive reusable cups or bottles. Most of this costs nothing.

The list of daily hazards is becoming overwhelming. What are the top three most effective environmental sins to avoid?

Our campaign focuses on the high street but the biggest three for the greatest global change are: one, consume less; two, reuse more; and three, recycle more. We need to think like our grandmothers. Food is really tricky. The worst thing is throwing it away and yet we're surrounded by food poverty. Even in this country primary school children go to school having had no breakfast.

When not campaigning environmentally, you're a leadership coach. Who do you coach?

People who want to become better leaders. A lot are stepping up into leadership roles, or have decided to work for themselves, young entrepreneurs for example. My coaching is more strategic than motivational. Others might be changing from the corporate world to a start-up. I know about that having escaped the corporate life myself.

What did you do before?

I was at the BBC for over 20 years, first as a news journalist, including Newsnight and in Washington. I flew so much. I've had my footprint! I spent my last 8 years teaching better feedback to news managers. It could be very W1A. I had to watch that programme through my fingers. No one says what they mean! I helped news managers be more truthful with their news reporters about how they were coming across. I'm very honest in reflecting back what I see.

What coaching regimes do you prescribe?

Self-awareness is the first step. You can get boxed in by what other people think of you and limit yourself to how others see you. We're all capable of so much more. Also, you have to be aware of the skills you still need to learn.

What turned you to leadership coaching?

Mum was a doctor, very practical. I'm practical. I'm not a panic person. That was reinforced in my work in journalism. You work to a deadline. At root I went into journalism because I'm curious about what makes people tick. I coach because I can get all that without jumping on a plane.

Has coaching helped you?

Absolutely. I love listening to other people's stories. We can all get into a loop in our heads. It’s a relief to concentrate on someone else's issues.

Do your friends expect you to solve all their problems?

No. I don't try. But I'm quite a good listener.

Saving the planet and changing lives are lofty ambitions. Where did you get such ambition?

Saving the planet? It feels much smaller than that. Changing lives? I'm a facilitator. It's entirely up to the individuals to make it happen. I feel quite modest. The Askew Road campaign is quite modest. If you want to make a parallel, all I'm saying is, don't panic – here are some easy steps you can take. The message is: just do these 3 things.

Thank you, Fiona. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.

Interviewed May 2019

Photo: Pippa Hart

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