Wadebridge is a town of 8,300 people in Cornwall with a vision of energy self sufficiency by 2020. A simple starting point- resistance to plans for a new supermarket- brought like minded people together and created a focus for conversation about what was important for the future of Wadebridge.
Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network, a social enterprise founded to reduce the energy use of the town, grew out of these initial conversations. Fuel bills equate to a £10 million drain on the economy and impact most on those who can least afford to pay. The group aims to tackle this drain on the local economy and put control of energy provision back in the hands of local people through a five point manifesto:
Generate: to generate 30% of the energy needed in the town using renewable energy sources by 2015 with self sufficiency by 2020.
Reduce: to help reduce energy demand in existing properties.
Retain: keep money currently spent of fuel bills in the local economy through community ownership, a community fund and inward investment.
Engage: to talk to local people and create understanding, making energy saving mainstream.
Replicate: ensure the process can be repeated elsewhere and subject it to academic evaluation.
The group aims to make a meaningful impact on the energy saving and energy consumption in the town by raising awareness, promoting schemes, engaging with developers and planning processes, and funding activities. Activities span the scales of energy generation, from multi-million pound generation installations to addressing the need of individuals who can't afford to heat their home, with the aim of bringing control of energy back into the hands of local people. The not-for-profit cooperative launched in 2011 with an event attended by 600 local people and now has over 1,000 members. WREN's activities have included:
· WREN Energy Shop: opened by Tim Smit, the shop acts as a visible focus point for activities and a drop in centre for information about fuel, energy saving measures and funding.
· Future Committee: engaging young people in energy issues.
· Community Fund: to date the fund has offered over £10,000 for local energy community projects.
· Education links: Links with the University of Exeter and Cornwall College give research backing to the messages the group are spreading, but also offer energy internships and links to courses for local people.
· Local currency: The Wren, designed to keep money in the local economy, is accepted in local shops and is offered as part of renewable installations and electric car purchases. The notes are designed in competitions held with local school children.
· Local people: keeping young people in the local area is a challenge faced by many small towns. WREN are supporting the Smart Cornwall initiative to attract smart energy and healthcare comparison to a new riverside innovation centre.
· Installed systems: 75 solar installations, 55 renewable heat systems, 110 households insulated funded by CERT; 100 household energy monitors installed; 6 electric vehicles; £10,000 WREN community fund allocations made to date.
The impact of this has been measured as a saving of £965,000 per annum, or an equivalent to 1,952 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year saved.
Why has it been successful? Lessons from the process
Transparency: the group is set up as an industrial and providence society, a form of not-for-profit cooperative. All members vote on proposals.
Consult and listen: the challenge to 'make energy sexy' has been tackled by fun ways of getting people involved. Using food and drink as a way of getting people talking has been very successful- "free cake, and while you're here let's talk about energy!" The key is to make it fun: using bold graphics and playful ways of demonstrating the issues, such as measuring temperatures in an insulated and an uninsulated dolls house.
Be seen: Members of the group are also involved in other initiatives in the town such as the Town Council and Chamber of Commerce and neighbourhood plan groups. WREN have a presence at all town events, such as markets and festivals.
Breaking apathy: Perhaps the biggest challenge is to beat the "we've tried it before" attitude. WREN tackled this by making themselves official as a cooperative, designing a logo and a producing a written manifesto. 'Getting out there', meeting people and making things happen demonstrate that a group is serious and means business.
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This article is based on a presentation by Harriet Wilde at FutureShift Festival, Millennium Point, Birmingham, 26th April 2014.
Credits: Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network