London's greenest firefighter is fighting climate change, too

Wednesday 24-05-2017 - 16:33

Did you know the London Fire Brigade does our Green Impact programme? In this guest blog, firefighter and sustainability champion Simon Jakeman gives us an inspiring insight into his journey with all things green.

simon jakeman

I’ve been a frontline firefighter now for 22 years, and in that time I have evacuated flooded homes by boat, pumped flood water, chased wildfires and picked up the pieces after storms. I really am on the frontline of an increased frequency of extreme weather due to climate change. It has been seeing how the effects of climate change are drastically altering people’s daily lives and putting them at risk that inspired me to act to rescue the planet.

As a child, my dad taught me the names of birds, trees, butterflies and constellations; my grandad grew fruit and vegetables in his garden allotment; and I was a keen Scout. I was always outside and always felt connected to the environment because I knew it well.

Back in 2011, I created London Fire Brigade’s first rooftop garden. It started with one tomato plant in a fire bucket, to provide crews with local sustainably sourced food. Other actionsfollowed: energy saving, encouraging sustainable travel, recycling, and so on. Surbiton was crowned London’s Greenest Fire Station. A couple of years later, I was commended as London Fire Brigade’s first Green Champion of the Year.

I have also received WWF’s Earth Hour Hidden Hero award, a People and Environment Achievement (PEA) award, and was shortlisted for the Excellence in Fire & Emergency (EFE award). I am now a WWF Earth Hour Ambassador, and have been a judge of their community awards. I recently attended the Houses of Parliament on behalf of WWF, to lobby MPs and Lords to act on climate.

The Fire Station roof garden has grown, and now provides an oasis for biodiversity. It has inspired many people in the local community to make small changes for the future of our planet. Schools and youth groups, local environmental groups, a local wildlife group, residents, local councillors and our MP have all visited. I’m hopeful it has given them all a little nudge to do their bit, too.


The station roof garden itself has recently been featured in a book called ‘My Tiny Garden’, which features urban gardens across the globe; from New York and San Francisco, to Tokyo and Surbiton. It’s a great achievement and a fantastic way to inspire others all over the world to pick up theirtools and create something of their own.

I’ve been working hard to spread the message for a sustainable future far and wide! Not too long ago I acted as a representative for a local wildlife group in Surbiton, presenting a video they created for a funding competition. I’m extremely proud to say that they were awarded the prize money and have since rejuvenated a green space and pond in the town centre. I played a big part on the ‘hands on’ side of things, too. We installed a large bug hotel in the centre of a busy commuter town!

On top of this, my local councillors recently voted me onto the council’s neighbourhood committee, and I was given the title of Community Advisor.

London Fire Brigade made me their Super Green Champion back in 2015. I was seconded and gave green presentations to allof London’s front line watches, admin personnel and HQ staff, on how they could make their workplace more eco–friendly to combat climate change. That was a total of 430 presentations, and took me 18 months to complete.

My presentations include a bit of everything from energy saving and recycling, to encouraging biodiversity and reducing car use. I’ve even had reps from other Fire Brigades attend my presentations and a London Assembly Member from London’s City Hall.

Last year, I took Surbiton Fire Station’s sustainable garden to the Hampton Court Flower Show, which included fire helmet hanging baskets, fire buckets and reclaimed tyre planters. I designed and planted the garden and received a RHS Silver-Gilt medal for my efforts.

I was amazed to find myself on this New Year’s Honours list for Services to the Environment (Sustainability and Energy Efficiency); I recently received my British Empire Medal at the Tower of London, and attended the first Buckingham Palace Garden Party of 2017.

I am now in a new role (Green Champion Coordinator) at London Fire Brigade Head Quarters in central London, in the Sustainable Development Team. My role includes encouraging and coordinating our network of Green Champions across the Brigade - and of course Green Impact actions.

My next goal is to get my whole town, borough and maybe even the whole city going green! I’m well on my way to ‘greening’ London from within. One of the ways I’m thinking of doing thisis to encourage the planting of wild flowers for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. I have recently helped Kingston Biodiversity Network to plant and seed a waste area in front of Surbiton’s telephone exchange.

If I could encourage people to take one small lifestyle change, I would want them to realise you can make a difference. You may think one person can’t, but you really can! I simply decided one day to grow some tomatoes in a bucket on a fire station roof, got up… and did it. I’m really proud of how far and wide my actions have spread and hope to see more people doing the same in the future. I feel that everyone can make a Green Impact!

We all need to realisethat trees, bees, seas, galaxies, you and me are all interconnected. Small actions really do add up.

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