Powering Up! - nurturing local leadership on energy
Kickstarting long term change in deprived communities
Project duration: May 2017 ongoing
Our current energy system undermines local energy resilience.
In a town of 20,000 homes, some £25m is spent every year on domestic energy alone. Nearly all this money leaves the local economy, and finds its way to large energy companies and their shareholders. Meanwhile, households and local businesses remain vulnerable to fluctuating energy prices and many homes fail to meet people’s basic needs for warmth.
And nowhere is this more true than in deprived communities which suffer from fuel poverty, the impacts of climate change and an imperfect energy market that privileges wealthier consumers. Acting to address these issues in communities which are already dealing with other social issues is complex – people may not have the time, resources or headspace to proactively engage with the energy system, or to start up a community energy project, especially where there are not obvious immediate benefits. Community projects which build local energy resilience typically take place in wealthy, middle class areas where people are more resourced and understand how to engage with the energy system.
Powering Up! is a three and a half year project which aims to engage with these challenges in three deprived communities. We will explore approaches to stimulating sustained grassroots action on energy which is genuinely empowering, improves household and community-scale energy resilience, and builds agency within these local communities and their institutions. We want to draw on community development theory and practice, building an approach which focuses on the assets each community has, and how these can be identified and mobilised to address energy-related needs and overcome problems in a sustained way.
We teamed up with Bath University to undertake a period of detailed ethnographic work with three households in each community, undertaken by Dr Bradon Smith. The ethnography sought to understand householder's lived experience of energy and their relationship with the local community. The research suggested some serious challenges for these communities and for organisations seeking to support them. However, set against these challenges were generally positive attitudes towards renewable energy. The ethnographic report is available to read in full here.
Going forward, we will use the findings from the ethnography to inform our work in the communities. We will seek to work with people in each community who are interested in being involved, to advise them in developing ideas for activities and interventions they would like to carry out locally, and then support them to then carry these out. We hope that over the three years capacity and confidence will be built to develop increasingly ambitious ideas, which focus on long-term change and energy resilience.
Harriet Sansom, CSE’s project lead explains what the project hopes to achieve: "We know from past experience that it is not possible to make a lasting change to how people engage with energy without first generating a genuine sense of agency – a real belief that the people can influence the systems and services available to them. That’s exactly what we hope to develop with this project. Creating genuinely local solutions will increase the likelihood that innovative community energy projects are sustainable and successful.”
This project is being funded by the Friends Provident Foundation and will work with communities in Druffyn in Newport, Penhill in Swindon and Hamp in Bridgwater, Somerset.
Here are a couple of blog pieces from CSE staff working on Powering Up!:
- Harriet Samson on what we've learned from the community engagement stage of the project.
- Ellie Stevens on how offering an easy-entry, hands-on activity – like turning old tights into draught excluders – makes community energy more accessible.
If you're interested in this topic why not take a look at Community energy benefits in deprived communities, a research project that aims to understand what conditions need to be met for community renewable energy projects to start up in deprived communities. You might also like our CEO Simon Roberts' provacative post Time to reach beyond the elite.