Powering Up! Moving from delivery to co-creation and capacity building

17 October 2019

Megan Blyth offers her thoughts on the past six months of work with Powering Up!

In the first few months of this project, our simple, fun engagement methods captured people’s attention and introduced the idea of community level energy activity. Our next challenge was to build the capacity of local people so that activities could begin to be co-delivered.

It’s really important to us that our work with communities has a legacy. We’ve aimed to strike a balance between supporting residents whilst encouraging independence and allowing residents to take ownership of an energy project of their own. To do this we used three key methods:

1) Scoping workshop

In this workshop, we brought together interested residents in Hamp, Bridgewater, and started by asking them to think about their community: its strengths, assets and challenges.

Energy did not come up as a challenge in itself but managing finances was identified as a challenge many face in their homes. This made it a useful starting point to talk about how they could “act on energy” to save money. We helped them consider the positive impact a community energy project could have in their community. We shared real life examples of how in other communities, local groups have provided advice to other residents on energy efficiency or have undertaken activities to generate income through a community energy asset. People were really excited by the idea of locally owned renewable energy but felt they lacked the skills to run their own energy project.

2) Energy Essential training

We noticed residents often mentioned their own lack of knowledge and showed a lack of confidence. By delivering “Energy Essential” training we hoped to equip residents with the skills and confidence to offer basic energy advice to their community. The training is simple and quick to deliver. It explains the concept of fuel poverty and how actions around energy bills, switching, heating controls, energy efficiency practices and actions to reduce damp and condensation in the home can make a real difference. 

We provided training to Penhill residents using an energy advice resource box. The pre-prepared box contains factsheets and display materials that local residents can use to run their own energy advice stand. Armed with this, residents in Penhill plan to run some energy advice pop ups and warm home discount events. 

3) Social media training

Having co-delivered an event with us and had some energy training, residents in Penhill were keen to learn how to effectively use social media as a campaign and awareness raising tool. This would build the profile of their energy project as well as other local initiatives.

CSE’s communications officer helped us run a social media training to help engaged residents in Penhill manage the existing Facebook page, run campaigns and promote events around energy and other local priorities.

This training had the best turnout of all our activities. It had a focus on energy issues but, the techniques and tools were relevant to anyone running a community social media account. Local groups are putting the learning to great use already, including to raise awareness of a big community event run by the Penhill Street Reps. 

During this phase of co-creation and capacity building, there have been highs and lows. The biggest challenge we’ve faced is recruitment and retention of volunteers. People show interest in being involved but drop out when they see responsibility looming. There is a reluctance to step forward and take the lead. Meetings have had to be rearranged due to cancellations and no-shows.

The social media training was different – we made it clear that the skills gained would be relevant for a range of activities which broadened the appeal and drew in new attendees.  Whilst it is great to be building local capacity generally, without a core group of reliable volunteers, it’s tricky to grow a project and avoid overloading a few individuals. 

We’ve been questioning the reason for inconsistent attendance at training sessions and workshops. We think it reflects a wider issue: the disconnect people feel between energy and their community level concerns about financial hardship and environmental concerns. This big topic will be explored in more detail in the next blog.

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