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Getting a community energy project started

steering groupProjects vary in their aims, nature, and scale. Often, it’s a single individual or small group of like-minded folk who simply 'want to get things moving'. But initial enthusiasm can soon wane when confronted with the many obstacles that lie in wait - apathy, bureaucracy and lack of funds are no strangers to even the best schemes.

By following a few basic steps at the outset, you can increase the chances that your project will be successful and long lasting. Of course, not all these suggestions may apply in  your case, but they are worth considering, especially if you are thinking of applying for funding.  Ask yourself if your project is: FEASIBLE, NEEDED and BENEFICIAL.  This is what funding bodies will want you to make clear. Some of the steps outlined here are based on 'Making it Happen', a presentation compiled by the Energy Saving Trust for their Green Communities programme.

1. How do you define your community?

Is it the entire village or town, or a particular group of people , such as residents of a block of flats, or the scouts and guides using a scout hut, for example?

2. Do some research on your community

E.g. population numbers, age profile,  housing conditions, economic prosperity,  social history of the area, principal community groups, key individuals, where do people meet, shop, worship, etc.? Who might be potential partners?parish boundary

3. Identify the need

Are the issues that are important to you important to others? What has been done before, if anything? Was it a success or a failure? Why did it succeed or fail?
Assess need by, e.g., holding a public meeting, conducting a door-to-door survey, or simply talking to people from a wide cross-section - not just your chums!

4. Is your project feasible?

Identify the basic requirements for your project's success. For example, Can you decide if it's technically feasible, or will you need a consultant's advice (plus fee)? Who owns the building/land/right of way. Will you need planning permission? Are there other legal issues? Will the outcomes justify the time, energy, and cost involved? You must be certain that they will.

5. How will it be funded?

Always the tricky one! Can you obtain grants, or will you need to get a loan. Can you raise capital through a community share issue? Will there ultimately be an income from the project, e.g. by means of a feed-in tariff or renewable heat incentive, to help pay off any loan? Or will the income be distributed among the community. How will this be done? See No fun without funding? for further information.

The joy of being an innovator

  1. People deny that the innovation is required.
  2. People deny that the innovation is effective.
  3. People deny that the innovation is important.
  4. People deny that the innovation will justify the effort required to adopt it.
  5. People accept and adopt the innovation, enjoy its benefits, attribute it to people other than the innovator, and deny the existence of stages 1 to 4.

Inspired by Alexander von Humboldt's 'Three Stages Of Scientific Discovery', as referenced by Bill Bryson in his book, 'A Short History Of Nearly Everything'.

6. Set aims and objectives

Aims- these set the ultimate goal or end result.
Objectives - these are 'milestones' or targets along the way.
Objectives are not simply 'less ambitious aims'; they are useful to measure progress and are often helpful in writing a business plan or funding bid; they can be referred to in reporting to the community or to funders at intervals during the project.

Example of aims:

  • To decrease the carbon footprint of Ambridge by 20% by 2015

Examples of objectives:

  • To ensure maximum loft insulation installed in at least 90% of houses by 2015
  • To cut number of car journeys into Borchester by 20% by 2014
  • To increase quantity of home-grown vegetables by 50% by 2015.