The stimulus of applying for low-carbon community funding

Today will see the announcement of the successful applicants to the first round of LEAF funding from the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC). Congratulations to all!

I’m involved in a bid to be submitted on Friday, so I appreciate the work it took to get the bids in on time. We’re undertaking three months’ work in as many weeks, I’m told.

LEAF is the “Local Energy Assessment Fund” – a.k.a. loose change DECC found in its trousers pockets before the year-end wash. It was announced in December with two bid rounds. It’s £10 million for projects including feasibility studies for communities renewables and domestic efficiency measures.

Yes, it would have been fantastic to have had three months to design the bid and six months to a year to spend it in but, good grief, what a difference it could make anyway. Even if we don’t get the bid, we’ll have learnt some very valuable things in the process.

We’re a pretty lively rural community: two pubs, local shops, over 30 clubs and organisations spanning a range of ages and interests. When we’ve needed a new community centre, pre-school premises, school building, skateboard park or tennis courts, we’ve got on and done it. (Big Society? Localism? There’s been some localised sniggering.)

We had an informal Green Group which probably started ten years ago or more but it faded away. The conclusion was reached that there was no need for a formal structure at that point: when people want to do something, there were already enough ways of achieving it without adding a further administrative burden. We had Present Sense (a project supporting sustainable gift giving), an allotment society, a gardening club, a country market and so on. The school governors erected a wind turbine; the community centre management committee installed solar panels; individuals got on with their own measures; a team entered the Energy Neighbourhoods competition. And all the while momentum gathered so that in the initial Parish Planning survey, energy was identified as a top priority for residents.

However, trying to pull people in to grasp the nettle to take action as a result of that has been difficult until the LEAF announcement. People know enough to have a grasp of the time, effort and technical knowledge required to make a truly significant difference but generally already have a long list of other commitments.

That’s where the LEAF money offers a fantastic chance to move forward. We now have an impressive team to submit the bid and a range of wider community support, even though we have yet to do any publicity.

To mix two elephant metaphors, LEAF offers an opportunity to move from a sense of there being a very big elephant in the room which needs eating, to all pulling up a chair, tucking in the napkins and taking the first bites with relish.

It provides the opportunity for us to leapfrog a range of start up issues and get to the meat of what we need to know: what’s possible and what’s not in community renewables, what finance models we could use and what works and what doesn’t work in improving the general level of energy literacy in the community. A successful LEAF bid will move us forward three to five years. An unsuccessful one, perhaps a year or two.

Karen Wilkinson is a Lib Dem activist in South Gloucestershire

* Karen Wilkinson is Chair of Thornbury & Yate LibDems and co-founder of the non-aligned campaign “Parents Want A Say”

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