BEN was set up in 2010 to help community energy initiatives across the city share learning and ideas for a more sustainable energy future. The network was formed in response to a flourishing of grassroots energy activity and the perceived benefits of closer collaboration. For the first four years it was run by volunteers with support from the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), Bristol City Council’s Sustainability team and the University of Bristol, amongst others. During these formative years, people involved through the network supported the launch of Bristol Green Doors (their first event was held in September 2010) and the development and launch of Bristol Energy Cooperative (launched to the public in 2011). In January 2012 and as a result of the network’s activity 11 local energy initiatives won Local Energy Assessment Fund (LEAF) awards. The network supported partnering between initiatives, communication between projects and dissemination of learning and results. As a result Bristol had the highest concentration of LEAF activity outside of London.
In the spring 2013 the Network coordinated and led the development of the Bristol Community Strategy for Energy. The Strategy sets out aims and steps for community level action on energy and seeks to enable local community groups to work in collaboration with local authorities, the private sector and third sector organisations on sustainable energy issues. Over 50 people and organisations were involved in shaping its content and direction. It was officially launched by the Mayor of Bristol in June 2013.
In January 2014, the Sustainability team at Bristol City Council (BCC) provided a £10k grant to the network in order to formalise the organisation and employ part-time staff. By July 2014 the Network was set up as Community Interest Company and was employing a coordinator and project development officer. Since 2014 the Network has secured project-based funding. In 2015 it ran the Energy Champions project, in partnership with CSE, OVO, Bristol NHS Trust and others, funded by a grant as part of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital. In 2016 the Network partnered with BCC to deliver a ‘community energy best practice’ model with funding via Department of Energy and Climate Change.