The Air We Breathe

Community-led journalism project on the impacts of air pollution in Newcastle


It fascinates you that the particles in your body now might once have been part of a dinosaur, a volcano, a comet. But what part did this other dust, that flew from brakes and exhausts, play as you grew inside me? – Eleanor, Newcastle

Air pollution is an invisible harm affecting communities globally and, in Newcastle upon Tyne, many face the consequences of busy roads and few green spaces.

To tell a more inclusive story of climate change and the impacts of air pollution, the New Internationalist was awarded funding as part of the Nesta Future News Pilot Fund and partnered with Radar to surface the challenges and resilience of communities in Newcastle as part of a wider global report on air pollution.


We teamed up with the New Internationalist as their community engagement partner, with the aim of using a community reporter approach to surfacing local stories. In Newcastle, UK, we brought together a group of community volunteers engaged in clean air initiatives on allotments, advocacy circles, local politics, faith and school groups.

We delivered rapid reporter training across two workshops – the first, in-person and second, online as the world went into lockdown due to Covid-19. This included modules on what it means to be a community reporter, how to use mobile tools for reporting, and tips for engaging local residents in climate conversations. Using Rapid 8 exercises we help them work from their different community contexts, backgrounds and perspectives to surface ideas that the community members wanted to focus on as a reporter network – see their ideas below.

The group then embarked on a series of reporting sprints in the local areas,  to capture stories to inform the magazine.


Communities are well placed to track the longitudinal often, invisible challenges that come with air pollution. By incorporating a community journalism model into this work, New Internationalist was able to engage and amplify the stories of those living close to areas of high pollution and tell richer, more complex human stories that revealed people’s concerns and the impact on their lives and that of their families.

For some of the reporters, this involved looking at the data and stagnation of council responses on the topic, others, like Jocelyn’s ‘A voice from the roadside’, reported on their personal day-to-day experiences of moving in the city:

The road – I call it ‘the race track’ – starts up in the early hours of the morning. I suffer from asthma and I can’t go out at peak times. I’m just coughing and coughing. It’s not acceptable that you can’t be comfortable in your own house. – Jocelyn, Newcastle

One reporter wrote a powerful letter – A letter to a skinny baby – apologising to her first child who was born in 2014 with an unexpectedly small birth weight which her health team said could be tied to them being born on a busy main road in the city: 

Madame, you smoked?’ asked the midwife…I hadn’t smoked, but to her your low weight, despite being full term, was a puzzle with an obvious solution….Over time my mind has turned towards the thick black dust that used to gather on the balconies and seep into the windows of our apartment block perched next to the steep main road. – Eleanor, Newcastle


New Internationalist


Read the New Internationalist article ‘I don’t want to live like this’