WHAT A DIFFERENCE THEY HAVE MADE! Three ACAN founder members and trustees step down

Three of ACAN’s founder members and trustees are stepping down this summer after five years of unstinting devoted service to the battle against the climate crisis in Alton and the surrounding area.

Jenny Griffiths, Eleanor Hill and Phinna Brealey have all worked incredibly hard for the ACAN cause.  The long hours they have put in have reaped amazing rewards as they have guided ACAN from relatively small beginnings to the flourishing, multi-faceted organisation it is now.  They have contributed enormously to raising awareness of the climate and environmental crisis in our area and encouraged hundreds of people to adapt their lives and take whatever steps they could to help save the planet.  We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

As a tribute to them, there follow short accounts in Jenny’s, Eleanor’s and Phinna’s own words of their individual climate journeys.

It’s also farewell from me.  I have edited these monthly Making a Difference articles, and written most of them, for over three years.  Before lockdown I was responsible for the fortnightly ACAN column in the Alton Herald.  I’ve always believed that the doom and gloom of the climate crisis can be so overwhelming that many people see no point in doing anything about it. So I’ve aimed to highlight positive climate stories in the hope that they will encourage more people to action. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing them, especially those relating to local events.  I was also flattered when Steve Allnutt sent my article about his rewilding of the sea bed to the BBC’s Countryfile!

It’s been a lot of fun, but as I enter my ninth decade this month, it’s time to put away my quill.  I wish ACAN every success for the future and hope still to join in when and where I can.

Sheila John

Standing room only at the open meeting at which ACAN was born in June 2019


I recall vividly at the age of 10 hearing my parents discussing Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and the horror of birds dying from DDT. Since then, I have been deeply concerned about the decline of the natural world and the climate crisis.

When I lived in Surrey, I was an active member of the Woking LA21 group (named after the Local Agenda 21 declaration of the Rio Earth Summit, an ambitious programme of sustainable development for the 21st century).  After moving to Alton in 2014, I became Secretary for Energy Alton CIC; ACAN evolved out of Energy Alton, which was doing more and more work on the climate crisis beyond its core mission of energy efficiency.

The ACAN Trustees at the Alton Eco-Fair in 2021 – Eleanor, Lesley, Phinna and Jenny

I co-ordinated the initial public meeting in June 2019 and have been Chair of Trustees of ACAN since its inception. As chair, my role is to ensure that the charity is accountable and benefits the public according to its educational mission. The ACAN core group have always worked as a close team, sharing the workload, e.g. stalls at events. My particular roles have been developing some of our new projects, fundraising for ACAN’s groups, organising talks and events including, with others, our two Eco-Fairs, publicity and promotion, and supporting the wide-ranging work of our nature group AVLAN, the Gumbi Alton Permaculture Project in Malawi, Eco-Streets and Young ACAN.

My vision was for ACAN to become a network firmly embedded in the community. This has been achieved and I am hugely proud and grateful for the work of all the group leaders and volunteers. Until recently, ACAN had 15 groups and projects, most of which will, I hope, continue to prosper.

ACAN now needs to reconsider its mission, as the climate crisis is happening all around us, and community resilience and adaptation to the effects of extreme weather will be very important.  For now, I am still actively involved in a some ACAN projects, but I need to take some time to reflect.  I am and will remain a Trustee of the Gumbi Education Fund.  I hope to spend more time with my friends, enjoying our wildlife-friendly garden and art and music.


I didn’t pay climate change much attention until I attended a talk by a senior met office scientist who seemed utterly defeated by the challenge.

I joined Energy Alton when I moved to Alton, then jumped on the wave of optimism in the runup to COP 21 in 2015 and helped set up the Alton Climate Alliance.  We held a rally in the Town Gardens and took a significant contingent to the march in London.

Sadly, the elation of success at the 1.5C Paris Agreement was short-lived and it soon became clear that none of the signatory countries were even close to meeting their targets.  That was when Extinction Rebellion came on the scene.

My first action with them was in February 2019 – it involved about 100 of us pouring fake blood on Whitehall at the entrance to Downing Street while some youngsters talked about their fears for the future. Not only I was crying at their speeches, so was a policewoman in the cordon opposite us.

Eleanor at an XR demonstration in London

Then came the amazing XR uprising and occupation of five sites in London for two weeks in April 2019.  I spent most of my time on Waterloo Bridge, renamed the Garden Bridge and discovered the joy of being with people who really “get it”.  This heady event led to Theresa May declaring a Climate Emergency later that year.

2019 was also the year that ACAN was born. We held a packed open meeting in the Assembly Rooms in June, standing on the very broad combined shoulders of Energy Alton, ALFI, The Alton Society and of course the Greening Alton and Holybourne Campaign.

Sadly, despite early successes (The Repair Café and Community Cupboard both opened in 2019), Covid scuppered our plans to open an Eco-Hub at Alton Community Centre, but we carried on undaunted with successful outdoor activities, the most special for me being the Eco Fair in 2021.

In the end though, I wanted to reconnect with my activist roots. XR are now targeting their actions much more specifically, so I shall again stand up to be counted where it matters most.

I hope that ACAN’s new leaders will bring on board younger people from more diverse backgrounds with their own vision and plenty of energy to carry ACAN into the future. Good luck to you all – I won’t be far away and will be keen to return occasionally as a foot soldier.


When I studied A Level Geography in the late 1960s, we all thought that oil was running out. Now we wish it had! Back then we talked about renewable fuels and learned about the balance of nature, ecosystems, acid rain and pollution. When I arrived in Alton, half a century later, those issues, somewhat modified, surfaced in my mind.

I jumped at the opportunity to have a heat pump installed, joined Energy Alton and soon found myself on their committee.

I was tasked with applying to the Hampshire Waste Prevention fund for some money to run a Plastic Awareness event but it was clear that those involved were interested in more than just the specialist work of Energy Alton.  And so ACAN was born.

When the 2018 IPPC report was published, I helped put together a summary of it for a meeting, and then the work began.

ACAN members (including Phinna and Sheila) and friends embarking on a litter pick in Alton town centre

The dream of running a Community Hub with a strong environmental theme was heady in February 2020 but unfortunately, that didn’t happen. However, as lock-down waxed and waned, Alton Town Council requested some volunteers to run a sort of toy library in the otherwise unoccupied Community Centre. A group of us planned quarantine periods for donations, a one-way system for visitors and a spreadsheet for tracking loans. We opened on four mornings a week, lent out toys, games, jigsaws, musical instrument and craft materials and maybe even helped save the sanity of one or two citizens! The Community Share continues on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at the Parish of the Resurrection Centre.

As soon as we could meet in groups of 6 outside, I started litter picks based on Anstey Park car park.  These continue, usually on the first Thursday morning of the month.  Sign up for joining instructions.

As for the future, ACAN will continue, possibly in a new form, and I will join in and help out when I can. I want to highlight and encourage the use of public transport so I have set myself the task of travelling around the coast with a backpack, using my bus pass and senior rail card. So far, I have done Greenwich to Deal and I intend to continue, a few days at a time, until enthusiasm, health or hotel money run out.

ACAN’s Vigil of Hope for COP 26, Alton Market Square, Oct 2021 – Eleanor, Phinna, Jenny and Lesley
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