Inspiration for community energy projects

12 ideas for greening your neighbourhood

2 September 2015

Bridget Newbery has been managing community projects at CSE for six years. Here's her rundown of 12 ideas for activities to cut carbon emissions in your community.

Most of these are things you could do in your own home, but you’ll have more fun and a much greater impact if you work with others to roll them out across your community.

With that in mind, we have recently developed the concept of community energy ‘projects in a box’, which make it really easy to run low carbon activities as community-wide initiatives. The boxes are like flat pack furniture: they contain all the kit you need, together with instructions on putting it all together. But you’ll be working on a low carbon project not a wardrobe…and you won’t need an Allen key!

CSE also has loads of resources and support you can take advantage of, whatever your community energy project. There are advice sheets on everything to do with home energy, toolkits for setting up community scale renewable energy schemes, support writing a neighbourhood plan for improved energy efficiency, and much more. Let us know if you want some help getting started with a project, or take some inspiration from the suggestions below.

1. Bulk buy schemes

Bulk buy schemes can be low cost and easy to set up, although you can also opt for a more expensive and complex version. At the simpler end of the scale, why not contact local providers of ‘green’ products and services to set up discounts. Or purchase kit like low energy light bulbs and draught-proofing materials direct from a supplier and sell them on to community members at a reduced price? Bulk buy is a good way to make energy efficient improvements more accessible and more affordable in your community.

Examples: Carbon Co-op
Resources: 'Starting a bulk buying scheme' (video)  |  write-up on our website  |  Projects in a box (this topic is still in development)

2. Carry out home energy audits

Carrying out energy audits of homes in your area (either as doorstep surveys or actual walk-arounds) is a good way to directly engage householders. The process also means you can identify specific energy saving changes relevant to individual properties that will help cut fuel bills, reduce carbon emissions, and make homes cosier. There are lots of low cost improvements to recommend alongside more complex and costly improvements, so large budgets aren’t essential. The first step to increasing uptake of energy efficiency measures may be as simple as flagging up and explaining the options.

Examples: 'Energy surveys  – a case study from West Somerset' (video)
Resources: 'An energy efficiency walk-around' (video)  |  Home energy survey

3. Run a draughtproofing workshop

Run a draught busting demo or a workshop in your community, or just tackle those pesky draughts in your own home. It’s a relatively cheap thing to do and makes a surprising difference. If you can gather together a group and demonstrate a range of easy draught proofing techniques you’ll be able to encourage people to go back and implement them at home. So much the better if you have materitals to give away, like letter box covers, foam seals and door brush strips – this takes away the hassle factor for attendees of having to go and buy the kit. For a more crafty approach to the issue, you could get people making draught proofing snakes or thick lining for curtains.

Examples: Bedminster Energy Group  |  Transition Belsize
Resources: Projects in a box  |  DIY draught proofing  |  'How to make a draught excluder snake'

4. Light bulb swaps

Everyone knows that low energy light bulbs use a fraction of the electricity of their old fashioned counterparts, right? Well this idea is about running an event to get people to swap out the last of their old bulbs for low energy ones. You’ll need some funding to pay for the new bulbs (or see if you can get donations from a manufacturer who will benefit by getting their name out there), and think about how to dispose of the old ones.

Examples: National Energy Foundation with Milton Keynes Council
Resources: Projects in a box

5. Visit an open home or set up a green open homes event

Green Open Homes events are where householders open up their doors to the public to showcase low carbon improvements they have made. Such events create a local buzz, are a great way to meet your neighbours, and are a tried and tested way of encouraging people to green their own homes.

Examples:  Essex Green Open Days  |  Transition projects
Resources: Green Open Homes  |  Projects in a box

6. Carry out an energy audit in a community building

Village halls, churches and community centres often have poor insulation, inefficient heating and lots of draughts. CSE’s resources guide you through the process of carrying out a thorough energy audit of your local community building, including guidance on what improvements are possible, how to estimate impact on carbon emissions and fuel bills, how to plan improvements and who to involve. Now's a great time for this, as grants are now available in parts of the UK through the WPD Community Chest.

Examples:  Zion Art Space (case study 2)
Resources: Projects in a box  |  Measuring community energy use (links to tools and guides)

7. Get involved in neighbourhood planning

We can’t emphasise enough the importance of embedding climate change and fuel poverty objectives into local plans and neighbourhood plans. Engaging with the planning system provides an opportunity for communities to have an influence over the low carbon future of their area. In terms of energy and climate change, this could mean being more resilient to future flooding and energy price volatility, and using income from community-led renewable energy to invest in local assets and services.

Examples: Frome’s Neighbourhood Plan
Resources: Low Carbon Neighbourhood Planning Guidebook  |  Neighbourhood planning toolkit

8. Become an energy champion

The idea behind energy champions is that in any local area, there is a person who can help answer common concerns about energy issues, or can signpost to trusted sources of information. Whether that is about grants and subsidies for insulation, how to use a night storage heater, or understanding energy bills; some basic energy training for ‘champions’ who can then share their knowledge goes a long way!

Examples: Bristol Energy Champions
Resources: 'Providing energy advice in the community' (video)

9. Run a green day

A green day could include stalls, demonstrations, raffles, quizzes, competitions, talks, and of course, cake! However big or small your event, it’s an opportunity to bring people together around a fun event, at the same time raising awareness and encouraging changes in energy behaviour. There are all sorts of topics you could choose for workshops or talks. CSE has some pre-prepared resources you can use, as well as information and top tips for you to speak knowledgeably and provide useful suggestions.

Examples: Bedminster Solar Energy Day
Resources: Guides on running an event | Education guides (links to puzzles, games, activities and workshops)  |  Mythbuster quiz  |  various CSE resources depending on the topic

10. Consult your community on renewable energy

If you're settled on a renewable energy project, involving local people is crucial. Consulation will get your community thinking about energy and seeing the potential benefits of your project. Residents who have contributed to the decision making process are more likely to support the project and may even commit some time to making it happen. It's also important to engage other stakeholders, such as the council, local businesses and other relevant organisations, to get them on board.

Examples: Low Carbon Gordano  |  Glastonbury Community Energy
Resources: Getting people involved (links to tools and guides)  |  'Consulting with the community' (a series of videos)

11. Go solar with your school

There are some excellent solar schools schemes already out there (10:10 has been running one for ages and has had some great successes). If you have good links with your local school and there is a roof suitable for solar panels, why not investigate the possibility of a solar roof? You’ll need to consider a range of factors including finances, permissions, suitabililty of the roof and so on. In the process you have a great opportunity to engage the entire school community in broader energy issues, and to generate your own green energy.

Examples: Low Carbon West Oxford
Resources: Solar films, links and downloads  |  10:10 Solar Schools  |  Questions to ask installers

12. Plan a whole street retrofit

Okay, so this is quite an undertaking, but making improvements across a whole street (instead of one house at a time) has huge advantages. This could take the form of a single improvement (like solid wall insulation or solar panels) or whole house retrofit including package of improvements. You will need to engage the home owners and occupiers to get everyone on board, scope out potential for improvements, look into costs, planning permissions, structural surveys and how to arrange installations. There may be subsidies you can tap into, and there will almost certainly be economies of scale to bring the prices down.

Examples: Carbon Co-op  |  Barcombe Energy Group  |  Tackling the Terrace (video)
Resources: Identifying opportunities in your community (links to tools and guides) |  Toolkit for retrofit of whole apartment blocks  |  'Rolling out an area-wide retrofit programme' (video)

Stay up to date with our work - sign up for our fortnightly newsletter