Ordinary Scots to welcome COP26 visitors with home sharing network

From flats and family homes to couches and spare rooms, it is a grassroots network designed to offer a warm welcome to delegates, campaigners, and scientists coming to Scotland’s biggest city for COP26.

A new online hub that allows people to offer space in their homes to visitors during this autumn’s crunch United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow is set to launch tomorrow.

The COP26 homestay network aims to help put up between 500 and 1,000 visitors in accommodation during November’s summit.

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Amid disquiet over exorbitant hotel prices in the city via the UK Government’s official accommodation provider and rates being hiked by some home owners on Airbnb and similar sites, the scheme hopes to provide an affordable and accessible alternative for those travelling to November’s conference.

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Professionals and families across the city have already signed up to offer accommodation to international visitors, but the push is now on to encourage others to take part ahead of a surge in interest.

One host already signed up is the Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, a Church of Scotland minister and veteran anti-poverty campaigner. He hopes to welcome people from communities “deeply impacted” by climate change to hear their experiences first hand.

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“If we want to create the change that’s needed for the planet, we need to listen to those people whose lives are being devastated,” he explained.

“The COP26 circus will come and go, but I hope to host people who have stories to tell and who can inspire me to do more long after then.”

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The COP26 summit is being held in November at Glasgow's SEC campus. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Another host taking part is Rosemary James-Beith, a researcher and project manager in the arts sector. She said the initiative was a crucial way of allowing ordinary Glaswegians to foster meaningful conversations and long-lasting relationships around the climate crisis.

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While the ongoing pandemic has disrupted planning for the crucial summit, organisers are still preparing for an in-person event, with as many as 30,000 visitors expected to descend on Glasgow.

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The homestay network idea is the brainchild of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and the COP26 Coalition, together with Human Hotel, which first launched an online home-sharing hub for COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. Those behind the network say it is being set up to provide a “warm Glasgow welcome”.

Kat Jones, COP26 project manager at Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, explained: “We want to give people a real sense of place and make them feel at home in Glasgow. COPs tend to just come down on a city like an alien invasion and disappear again, but we want to help visitors meet ordinary Glaswegians and make connections.

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“It’s also a way of making people here feel involved with COP26. I think there’s a real enthusiasm across Scotland, and not just across the climate movement, so we want to encourage that.”

Ms Jones said she attended COP25 in Madrid, but felt “dislocated” and homesick, with no real local identity to the global gathering, and a sense that it could have been taking place anywhere. The Glasgow network is, in part, a response to that.

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Rev Johnstone, who is the COP26 ambassador for the multi-faith Glasgow Churches Together forum, has promised prospective visitors hearty home cooking while staying in his third-floor flat in the city’s Shawlands area.

The chance to offer people a place to stay, he added, was key to giving them a better impression of life in Glasgow and Scotland.

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“You can go to a hotel and never really get to know a place, but if you’re living in someone’s home, you really do,” he explained.

“I’ve been privileged to stay in the homes of many other people around the world over the years. Many of them have become life-long friends and some of them have changed the way I think about things.”

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Ms James-Beith, who lives with her young family in the Commonwealth Games Village in Dalmarnock in the city’s east end, is working out of her spare bedroom due to the pandemic, but has vowed to “find a space” for a guest in her home come November.

She explained: “My work isn’t directly involved with COP26, but within the cultural sector there’s a real significant interest in the climate emergency. This is such an important moment for Glasgow and the world, and when a friend told me about the homestay network, I realised this was a way of engaging with it.

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“I’ve hosted artists and a refugee in the past, and being able to open up your house and be hospitable to visitors is a great opportunity. Having people in your home, you open yourself up to different voices, perspectives, and experiences from throughout the world.

“Hopefully that can have a lasting influence in Glasgow and the city can benefit from that in the long term.”

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She added: “I hope we can see decisive action at COP26 to halt global warming and put networks in place which allow fossil fuels to stay in the ground.

"Scotland is so reliant on fossil fuels, but it’s a dying industry and we need to think differently, so having international agreements around that would be huge.”

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While the majority of the hosts already signed up are based in Glasgow, others are located as far afield as Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and North Lanarkshire.

Others across the Central Belt are being asked to consider joining up, provided their accommodation is around an hour’s train journey away from Glasgow.

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To make the platform as inclusive as possible, there is a cap on what prospective hosts can charge. The cap is currently set at £10 a night for a shared space, £20 for a private room, and £30 for the use of a whole flat.

In the event the pandemic significantly worsens, organisers of the booking network say they will make a decision on whether it can still be used in line with Scottish Government safety guidelines.

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To find out more about the COP26 homestay network, visit www.humanhotel.com/cop26

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