“Like wildflowers, you must allow yourself to grow in all the places that people thought you never would.” 


I’m Emily, an 18-year-old from Derbyshire. Over the past 10 months, I have become deeply invested in climate activism and I have developed so much because of it. I am currently leading regular school strikes in the small town of Matlock.

In February 2019, the 1st YouthStrike4Climate protest took place in London. It definitely caught my attention as I was brought up by a family with a passion for wildlife and the outdoors and therefore I have always been mindful of environmental issues. However, I never considered myself confident or rebellious enough to protest.

A friend and I almost jokingly said that would join the next one. In March, that whimsy turned into a reality and we jumped on a train down to London. We marched alongside 20,000 students through the streets of the capital to demand that the national government tackles the climate crisis. It was honestly one of the most empowering experiences of my life. Although I was only one of thousands, I felt like I could really make a difference and help change the world for the better.

After being inspired by the London protest, I set up Matlock4Climate, alongside a team of equally budding students. In April, we held our very first strike, when we were joined by 100 protestors. Since then, we have led 6 demonstrations, generating a crowd 250-strong in September. We are due to hold our 7th later this month. My roles within the group include communicating with the public via social media, designing promotional material and coordinating our group’s actions. 

County Hall, the seat of power for Derbyshire, is a key target for our protests. Conveniently, it is situated in Matlock itself. Inconveniently, it lies at the top of a steep hill with an average gradient of 11%. During our protests, we usually storm the building and often performing a so-called ‘die-in’ in the foyer. As well as being a symbolic performance, demonstrating the death and destruction that we will face in the future, it is also a welcome lie-down after a gruelling 15-minute hill climb. We do this in the hope that it catches the attention of local councillors. And we have definitely been successful. In response to our activism, the town, district and county councils are all slowly but surely creating strategies to reduce the area’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Due to the strikes, I have been forced to push myself out of my comfort zone. I was always considered a shy kid as I found it challenging to communicate with people outside of my friendship group and the comfort of my home. Despite this, I have had to make my case in front of school peers, police officers, teachers, headteachers, councillors, fellow activists and I have even challenged the prime minister. But that’s a story for another time. 

I frequently give speeches in front of large crowds which has dramatically improved my confidence and public speaking skills. A year ago, no one would have envisaged me giving speeches or chanting and singing through a megaphone. I truly believe that I have shocked my friends and family with how I have emerged out of my shell over the past year. And I have definitely shocked myself. 

But why am I doing this? We’ve seen footage of the devastating impacts of the climate and ecological breakdown. Bushfires, heatwaves, cyclones, floods, storms, droughts, desertification, the list goes on. We’ve heard about how the polar bears, koalas and coral reefs are suffering. We know that people all over the world are losing their homes, lives and livelihoods.

But what really hit home for me was when the crisis quite literally hit home. On the 8th November, Matlock and the surrounding area suffered severe flooding after prolonged rainfall. Businesses, roads and farmland were submerged underwater and Annie Hall, the former High-Sheriff of Derbyshire, sadly lost her life after being swept into the floodwaters. Earlier in the summer, part of the dam at Whaley Bridge collapsed after torrential rainfall. 1500 people had to be temporarily evacuated. Events like these will only become more severe and frequent if governments don’t take action now to prevent further global warming and ecological collapse. We must continue to strike in order to continue to push for systematic change.

My actions as part of Matlock4Climate have definitely raised awareness of the climate crisis in the local area and hopefully, we will soon start to see real action taken countywide and nationwide. My confidence, creativity, public speaking, writing and leadership skills have all improved massively throughout this process which has benefitted me both in my everyday life and school work.

Don’t be shy, speak up and make a scene! No matter who you are or where you come from – you can be a catalyst for change! Small actions and shy people can make a difference, and I think am living proof of that.