SWM Annual Conference: Our Changing West Midlands #AC23 – 13/07/23


  • Alan Carr, Senior Sustainability Advisor, Sustainability West Midlands (SWM)
  • Paul Crofts, Chief Operating Officer, Black Country Living Museum (BCLM)
  • Ashok Sinha, Chief Executive, Ashden
  • Delia Garratt, Chief Executive, Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust
  • Ed Green, Chief Executive, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust
  • Jennifer Panting, Head of Local Net Zero Engagement + Midlands lead, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ)
  • Dr Beck Collins, Senior Sustainability Adviser, SWM
  • Jacqueline Homan, Head of Environment, West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA)
  • Richard Parker, Labour candidate for WM Mayor
  • Emma James, Researcher Climate Outreach
  • Liz Alston, Sustainability Manager, Worcestershire County Council
  • Andrew Pollard, Chair, SWM
  • Anna Bright, Chief Executive, SWM
AC23 collage
AC23 Prime Sponsors: Black Country Living Museum, Earth Hub, Beeswift

AC23 Exhibitors: Aston University Centre for Growth, Medicus Caps, Neo, Wylde Connections, University of Birmingham – Net Zero Skills Bootcamp, AVACE Ltd, BizEd Projects CIC, Window Insulation Ltd, (WMCA).

Context to SWM’s Annual Conference:

SWM hold their Annual Conference so that sustainability organisations and professionals can come together and provide delegates with a peer-to-peer learning opportunity and to share important information and solutions affecting our sector in the West Midlands. The event comprises of thought-provoking influential speakers, presentations, and workshops, heavily punctuated with networking sessions and immersive exhibitions from SWM members and stakeholders.

The venue – the Black Country Living Museum (BCLM)

SWM were thrilled to partner with one of their membership competition winners for 2023, BCLM, for our Annual Conference this year! This gave delegates the added engagement facet, to learn how a museum can incorporate sustainability into a living heritage site and explore the site after the conference was finished.

Aims of SWM’s AC23:

  1. Share current information on the changing climate of the West Midlands and the need for approaches to net zero to consider adaptation and nature-based solutions.
  2. Share information on the changing political and support structures in the West Midlands within our field of sustainability.
  3. Provide an engaging networking opportunity for over 100+ cross-sector sustainability professionals to share knowledge and best practice supporting SWM’s Roadmap to 2030.

The event

On the day, AC23 had over 120 people in attendance and nearly 90 different cross-sector organisations represented from SWM members and stakeholders.

Who came along to AC23?
Outline of the event

AC23 started with a diverse set of sustainability exhibitors lining the newly built Hall 1 of BCLM and, a steady flow of delegates filling the room with a growing buzz of networking and anticipation for the event ahead.

Mrs Griffiths (a schoolteacher from BCLM) soon got tired of the noise after 45 minutes of this and rang her school bell to herd delegates into the main conference hall, and once sat down, told them to put their electronic devices away, like all good teachers do. She then went on to tell delegates (her students) what was to be expected of them throughout the day under no uncertain terms. In summary, “get involved, or else” in a strict circa 1900’s tone. It is fair to say, the delegates listened.

SWM’s Alan Carr compered the event with his usual flair, (despite soldiering on through illness), outlined the event ahead and introduced the first speaker, Paul Crofts, Operations Manager at BCLM. Paul spoke of the redevelopments at BCLM, what value they had gotten from SWM membership and stressed the importance of collaboration.

This was then followed by the inspirational keynote by Ashok Sinha, the newly appointed Chief Executive of Ashden. The energy and passion he peppered throughout his speech was clear and reinforced the dynamic tone set throughout the rest of the conference. There was no room for indifference, we need to drive things forward now and not wait. As Ashok perfectly stated, “Let’s accelerate action by working together”.

Next up was the Wildlife Trust takeover, with Delia Garrett from Birmingham and Black Country and Ed Green from Warwickshire, tag-teaming on how each area approaches ‘nature-based solutions’. Despite the differences in urban and rural, they are both united in this being intrinsic to planning for climate change and is vital to the future of communities and businesses.

SWM then wanted to capitalise on the energy created by the speakers so far and broke into table-based workshop groups, each with a facilitator. We used the online Mentimeter system to capture delegates’ thoughts on the following questions:

  1. Discuss reflections on presentations by Ashok, Delia and Ed.
  2. Is there one thing you can pledge to do as a result?
  3. Do you need partners to move forwards with this?

An array of over 60 delegate responses appeared on the main screen addressing the workshop questions. Click below to see a summary of responses.

After a chance to refresh themselves and network, delegates were given all the latest information on the ‘Local Net Zero Growth Plan’ with an online presentation from Jennifer Panting (DESNZ). The changes ahead outlined the need to develop place-based approaches to tackle Net Zero working with Local Net Zero Forums and combined authorities to devise and distribute Net Zero funding.

The conference then drew on the expertise of a panel of sustainability professionals with a Q&A session chaired by SWM’s Dr Beck Collins.

Question for discussion: Making the West Midlands more sustainable, fairer and greener for all?


Jackie Homan    West Midlands Combined Authority

Richard Parker   Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor

Emma James      Climate Outreach

Liz Alston             Worcestershire County Council

SWM produced key points from the discussion, which will be uploaded online when available.

The conference finished up with observations from the day from SWM Chair, Andrew Pollard, and a presentation on the ‘Future for SWM’ from SWM Chief Executive Anna Bright. This covered the value of membership to SWM, SWM’s ongoing work with the West Midlands Net Zero Business Pledge and the latest findings of SWM’s 2023 Roadmap to 2030 report.

Anna then thanked everyone involved in making AC23 happen and invited everyone to have lunch.

Lunch and networking were offered until 14:00, when AC23 officially ended. Delegates were offered the option for a free tour around the BCLM by Paul Crofts or to tour freely until site closed at 17:00.

Feedback on the day from AC23 delegates:

Question: What did you like most about the event?

“Quality of the speakers and content; the venue was unique and well suited to the event”.

“Ashden. DESNZ presentation- networking- museum tour – location”.

“The venue and attendee size, it felt just right for comfortable networking”.

“The informative panel discussion and the excellent venue!”

“The mix of networking, speakers, panels etc and the range of voices was incredibly informative”.

Short video produced by BCLM

Presentation slides

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