Powering up! The project goes into lockdown ...

5 October 2020

Our Powering Up project has been exploring ways to kick-start and support community-led energy action in lower income communities. We’ve been working in Hamp (Bridgwater), Duffryn (Newport) and Penhill (Swindon).

It’s been a learning journey! We’ve tried different approaches to engagement, and whilst residents have attended events and demonstrated an interest in the project, sustaining interest and shifting this into awillingness to get involved, co-design and deliver project ideas has been difficult. Have a read of our blogs (links at the foot of the page) where we share our learnings and how we have adapted our approach along the way.

At the beginning of 2020, after two years of on-the-ground engagement and as we entered the last six months of the project, we decided to end our engagement in Hamp and Duffryn. We had gained most traction in Penhill, and hoped that by focussing our attention and resources here we could build something with roots before our support ended.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived and the UK went into lockdown.

This dramatically altered context, along with a project extension till March 2021, pushed us back to the drawing board for how to make best use of our remaining time in Penhill.

Our project in Penhill had gained traction because of an enthusiastic resident – Emily – who, through her engagement with the project, and her commitment to her community and environmental activities, has become the community’s informal energy champion. We provided Emily with energy advice training, and off the back of this, she has, amongst other things, helped members of her community to sign up to the Warm Home Discount, supported the council with their Warm Home Discount events, given out leaflets and advice at Penhill’s Community Café, and even helped people get efficient lightbulbs during lockdown!

Emily inspired us to wonder whether we could spread the energy champion activity to other parts of Swindon, to create a network of people offering their neighbours energy advice and signposting them to sources of support.

This idea feels timely.

The growth of local mutual aid groups is testament to the strength of evident and latent community spirit, generosity and altruism, and highlights the importance of community-led support. We also know that local-level energy advice will be even more critical in this new context, as the pandemic exposes and exacerbates existing inequalities, with low-income households grappling with further-stretched incomes and existing and new health conditions. And there is a long winter ahead.

And so we are testing a remote approach to recruiting, training and supporting a network of community energy champions. Using our relationships with key stakeholders in Penhill and Swindon, and building on our Facebook presence, we have so far recruited eight champions – residents from different parts of Swindon. We have trained the champions in basic energy advice and will work with them over the coming months to explore what they can do, given covid-19 restrictions, to give energy advice and increase the energy literacy of their neighbours.

We hope that by building a network of champions, providing advice and training, and creating opportunities for peer-to-peer support and learning, that the network will continue its local energy advice activities past the end of the Powering Up project.

November 2018: Powering up! How’s it going so far ...
May 2019: Start small to power up ... 
October 2019: Powering Up! Moving from delivery to co-creation and capacity building
February 2020: Barriers to engagement and the energy disconnect

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