What do community groups think about community energy?
There’s over 500 community energy projects operating in the UK. Thousands more being discussed and developed. But it’s fair to say that many are led by energy enthusiasts and a large percentage tend be based in better-off areas. So how do community organisations in poorer areas with no background in energy see these new developments?
Last week we led an event that started to provide some answers. ‘Community Energy and Social Investment’ was an event for local people working in Big Local areas. Big Local (see www.localtrust.org.uk ) is the Big Lottery programme that is working in 150 areas across England (each of about 8-10,000 people) suffering from exclusion. I work in a support role for four of these areas (including Northfleet and South Bermondsey). Green issues tend to take a back seat relative to issues around poverty, engaging younger people, and general dereliction.
So Big Local’s funding of the Community Energy workshop was a first. 25 people from 12 Big Local areas were involved and engaged. The initial reasons why made no mention of carbon emissions but did focus on training, comfortable homes, anti-social behaviour, jobs, and ‘creating income for our community’. The enthusiasm was tempered by concerns over getting local support both within the community and from local councils and landowners, and over ‘our own skills and resources’ with a recognition that that can be ‘technically daunting’.
There were some very useful presentations and case studies. Ross Weddle of Green Community Buildings talked about how they were engaging in three Big Local areas in north-east England – his presentation here. Agamemnon Otero described the work of Repowering London and their links to communities in Brixton. Niamh Goggin, Director of Small Change (a core partner in the Big Local programme) showed how this work links to the wider social investment agenda – a major issue for Big Local. This led in to an excellent presentation by Robert Rabinowitz, director of Pure Leapfrog, the leading provider of social investment and professional support to community energy projects in the UK.
The response and engagement of practitioners was very positive. There was a recognition of the opportunities that this presents, both in terms of new income streams and skill building, and a growing understanding that this can be a new asset for any community organisation. few had thought of the sunlight falling on the community centre roof as a source of income.
Many organisations are keen to move forward and find support. In two cases it was interesting that they had no knowledge of fairly high-profile community energy projects fairly near their areas, and one key way forward will be to provide interested BL organisations (and indeed other community groups) with connections to local CE projects. People were still keen to get basic information – the resource sheet given out is here – and to see some real examples of how this is working in practice.
There certainly seems to be scope for BL groups to work together and perhaps for one or two pilot projects to go forward with the active support of both national Big Local agencies and local community energy experts.All those taking part said their knowledge of the issues had improved ‘a lot’ or ‘very much’ – one of the challenges for us will;l be to support them in sharing this learning with their local partnerships.
Hopefully this is just a starting point and there’ll be more to come on this.