Chryso Chellun:
Using heartfelt creativity to energise the parent climate movement

Chryso Chellun is co-founder of the UK climate group Mothers Rise Up. A freelance prop-maker by profession, she uses her skills and creativity to drive climate campaigns. Her creations include a wind farm outside the Prime Minister’s office, a giant phoenix for the COP26 parent delegation, and a Mary Poppins inspired climate flash mob outside Lloyd’s of London, which went viral on Twitter. The recipient of an OKC 2022-2023 Parent Fellowship, Chryso believes art and music can shape bold actions and grow the visibility of the parent climate movement. As part of Insure Our Future’s Global Week of Action to end fossil fuels (26 Feb – 3 March), Chryso is working on an action involving theatrical props and over 30 dancers.

I was always drawing and painting as a kid. When I was 14, we moved from London to Mauritius, the tiny tropical island my dad is from. Six years of my life was purely nature based. We had beaches, sugar cane fields, and mountains and we’d often race up onto the roof to watch the sunset. My love of nature deepened there.

In college I loved building 3-D creations, which led to me making props for theatre, TV and themed events. Eventually, I tired of creating props for such a wasteful industry and wanted out. I travelled widely, then settled near my family to raise my daughter. Motherhood made my environmental worries much more personal.

When the Paris Climate Agreement was announced, I posted a video of my then-five-year-old daughter dancing happily in celebration. I had complete trust that the process would protect her. I naively thought world leaders were on it! Then in 2018, the IPCC report came down with that 12-year deadline. I fell to my knees in despair because I understood the implications: This crisis is happening in my daughter’s lifetime.

My protective mama instinct kicked in hard which sparked my first steps into activism. At my first climate protest, I held a sign reading “Worried Mum – (one of many).” Other mums gravitated to it, and we talked about mothers as fierce protectors. We began meeting and launched what would become Mothers Rise Up, announcing a Mothers’ Climate March for International Mothers’ Day 2019.

To highlight the mums-as-protectors theme, I designed huge pushchairs each carrying a giant planet planet earth, which were pushed by stilt walkers, and composed a protest song called, “We are Rising” that we sang on the march. Three thousand families joined us in London’s streets to demand climate action. It was an uplifting start.

Art and music can have powerful emotional impacts. One song or image can pull you into your heart space, and I believe people need to feel an emotional connection to respond to the climate crisis. If they don’t, it stays in a cerebral space — just science – instead of becoming the felt motivator of “I’m afraid for my children.” We try to tell a story that invites people into climate conversations without depressing them, but one has to feel the existential shock to kick start the process.

We’ve targeted Lloyd’s of London in our campaigns because they won’t rule out insuring dangerous fossil fuel projects like the Adani Coal Mine in Australia and the proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Without insurance, these projects couldn’t happen.

Lloyd’s chairman, Bruce Carnegie-Brown, is a father of four who’s a big cricket fan. He chairs the MCC, the home of cricket in the UK. Just before Christmas 2022, we delivered a specially designed 3D advent calendar with 24 scenes depicting an idyllic cricket match increasingly disrupted by climate change. It was cheeky and unassuming, a miniaturised protest. Carnegie-Brown had never previously responded to NGO campaigners, but he engaged with us on social media, displayed our calendar inside Lloyd’s, and met with us.

In this movement, there are carrots and sticks. We’re definitely the carrot. We’re telling leaders “You can do better.” When we recognise that we’re always talking to another human being – in this case, another parent – we stand a better chance of getting through. At the same time, corporate leaders need lots of pressure, so it’s good to use different angles.

Creative climate work is a great way to engage people. Whilst looking for business suits for our Mary Poppins’ flash mob protest, the older saleswomen would ask, “Why do you need so many suits?” I’d explain why and suddenly the shops would come alive with women wanting to help.  I’d say, “There you go! You’re activists!” and they’d beamed with pride, because they’d found their way into climate activism in a way that made sense to them. My way in is through creating. That takes a team, and ours is small but good, with complementary skills. I build things. Others do social media, voiceovers, and networking etc. Together we finetune ideas, making them stronger and more professional-looking.  

We organised a protest outside Lloyd’s annual general meeting that targeted its investors. While a string trio performed classical music, we welcomed attendees and were taken for Lloyd’s staff. We charmed them with our smart clothes and smiles, offering leaflets about why attendees shouldn’t invest in fossil fuels. About 100 leaflets entered that meeting in the hands of the investors themselves.

Soon, we’ll be back outside Lloyd’s of London with a new, uplifting action and story highlighting the theme of protection, which is what the insurance industry is supposed to be about. We’re inviting Lloyd’s to use their conscience and find their courage to stop insuring new fossil fuel projects.

I feel fortunate that my family supports my work. My parents let me use their large sitting room to build the pushchairs, the giant phoenix, and a huge oil barrel of flowers. I’m a single parent, which means that when I get into my creative zone, I have to keep snapping out of it to tend to my daughter’s needs. I’m grateful when my 14-year-old gets looked after by her grandparents so I can stay focused.

This is now my full-time job. It helps me cope with climate change as it gives me purpose and agency. It also feels important to be transparent that it comes with challenges. Climate activism is intense. But I like being positioned in this movement. When I see a use for my creativity—when we give our message a voice with a big, beautiful, and visual image — it feels empowering.

I’d love to encourage anyone reading this to wholeheartedly bring whatever skills they can to the cause. We need everyone on board. Our kids are depending on it!