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Green Great Britain blog series: The Energy Transition – climate action in communities

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Caroline Bird & Paul Hassan.

As part of Green Great Britain Week, we’re celebrating leadership and action in Bristol and the South West to tackle climate change and drive clean growth in the UK.

Friday’s theme is ‘Climate action in communities’. We invited Caroline Bird from Bristol Energy Network and Paul Hassan from Locality to reflect on their partnership as they prepare for the ‘Energy Transition Conference 2018‘, which will look at the different facets of community approaches to energy and how communities and local authorities can work constructively together.

“Bristol is a particularly appropriate location for the conference as it has seen a growth and maturing of community energy over the last few years – with BEN at the centre of a network of community groups seeking to address energy issues of concern to them. In parallel with the growth in community activity, the city council has become an active supporter of grassroots activity – recognising the value of community-led approaches not

Community engagement with the Replicate project

just in delivering on energy, but also helping to build community and community resilience. A recent example of this is the ‘Bristol Community Energy Fund’ (BCEF), where BEN has been helping the council to reach new communities – taking an outreach approach to discuss with community groups in different parts of the city what they understand about energy, their concerns and how modest funding might help them (see case studies here).

We recognise that ‘community energy’ as it has been traditionally defined (ie a community group set up specifically for energy projects) is too narrow for the spectrum of groups right across the city and beyond. They have issues that they want to address from the ground up, by taking their own initiative and working in their neighbourhood. BEN, as an ‘intermediary organisation’, has been able to reach out into many communities across the city, making connections and sharing learning from more mature projects whilst also supporting the development of new ideas, bringing people and groups together and making connections to local policy.

Lawrence Weston solar farm

Examples of different approaches taken by BEN members include:

  • Bristol Energy Co-op which is now one of the largest community installers of renewable energy in the country.
  • The CHEESE project which uses thermal imaging to help householders identify where their homes are losing heat and then makes suggestions for remedies
  • Bedminster energy group is rooted in its local community and runs events, training and talks to share information about energy and bring people together
  • Ambition Lawrence Weston is a community-led regeneration project which has set up an energy group to help tackle fuel poverty and reduce the cost of energy to residents; providing information, up-skilling, training, and employment

BEN are now taking their approach to a new level in working with Locality to both develop current ideas and to reach new audiences so that our experiences in Bristol can be shared nationally, and so that we can draw on Locality’s wealth of community experiences for the benefit of the communities of our city.

As a national network, Locality aims to support community organisations in addressing local needs and , building a fairer society. Across the country, Locality’s members, through the power of community, are supporting regeneration, housing and education and addressing loneliness, poverty, and exclusion to name just a few areas. Locality’s recent campaigns include ‘Save our Spaces’, seeking to keep assets of local interest in community hands; and the campaign to ensure the government’s desire to extend devolution reaches down to the hyper local level. Decentralising power through localism and devolution gives local people a greater say and helps local initiatives to thrive. This was a core belief of the network long before it become a flagship government policy.

Since its inception, Locality has also been working alongside communities to help them develop sustainable low carbon facilities and community owned solutions to tackling the scourge of fuel poverty. Projects have ranged from the production of a wind turbine for Berwick Development Trust, to business development support for a range of community energy organisations including Oxford Low Carbon and Brighton Energy.

Locality’s top tips for new community organisations include:

  • interest as many people, organisations and service providers in the neighbourhood as possible.
  • develop a steering group to help shape the overarching goal of the project and consider key questions such as how you will reinvest profits generated back into the community e.g. to fund other low carbon projects.
  • assess what skills and knowledge the community has to ensure that realistic and well-supported ideas are proposed from the very outset.

Bristol Energy Network and Locality are excited about working together – taking a community network approach to developing stronger and more sustainable communities, bringing peer learning to the fore and sharing experience for the benefit of everyone.”

*We are grateful to Bristol Energy and Power to Change who have generously sponsored the conference.

Caroline Bird has been the Chair of Bristol Energy Network since 2017 and a Director since 2014. She is also a freelance researcher working on urban sustainability transitions and the interdisciplinary collaborative approaches needed to achieve future change; she is currently based at the University of Bristol..

Paul Hassan is the Development Manager for Locality in the South West where he supports ambitious and enterprising community-led organisations, to work together to ensure neighbourhoods thrive. He was until recently a Company Director at Ujima Radio CIC and is currently a Board Member at United Communities Housing Association.

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