Re-energising community buildings

Bristol Energy Network Virtual Open Meeting – 25th June 2020

Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership (HWCP) co-hosted our second online Open Meeting, where we explored how community buildings can generate their own more sustainable energy and better manage their energy generation and consumption. Caroline Bird, Chair of the BEN Board, chaired the meeting. 

You can watch a recording of the meeting here.   

Host introduction

Melanie Monaghan from HWCP stared by telling us about the work that HWCP have been doing to support local people during Covid-19, HWCP has been using social regeneration funding to take a community-led approach to investment. Currently HWCP is delivering a community transport scheme with 500 members, mostly elderly and people with mobility issues, enabling social connection and shopping trips.  Their current vehicle fleet is all diesel and petrol, and they’re interested in looking at how to make that more sustainable.   

The Symes building, where they are based, is mostly an office building with affordable rent for community and statutory organisations, and spaces for community meetings and gatherings. They’re going to look now at how to use that space post-Covid. HWCP mostly work with people who experience food and fuel poverty, to help the community to take charge of the services they use and have choices about services, energy and the environment they live in. They have a track record of supporting the community to have a voice, which grew out of Neighbourhood Partnership work.  

With the Covid situation, the existing efforts to review their business plan have been accelerated.  The response to Covid has been amazing, including taking phonecalls from the We Are Bristol line, doing befriending phonecalls, 500 regular calls to people to check on them etc. Learning from this could lead to a more integrated approach to supporting people with less compartmentalising, looking at all the strands of someone’s life together. 

Dave Tudgey (BEN) outlined the work that BEN has been doing with HWCP, including analysis of their energy consumption, which led to investment in solar energy. The building had a lot of green technology including solar hot water and underfloor heating, but this wasn’t functioning well. Energy management experts Hurtwood came in to improve the management of the building. BEN has also been working with HWCP to deliver the WHAM project locally.  HWCP are now planning to recruit a new staff member to look at retrofit and build on their thermal imaging work, which will also link in with the Warm Up Skill Up project to increase DIY skills for energy efficiency. 

Launch of SONNET project

Richard Lowe from Bristol City Council then introduced the new SONNET project. This is an innovative research project which aims to find new ways to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy investment in community buildings in Bristol. This is a great opportunity for community buildings leading the way on energy efficiency in their communities, which has been at the heart of BEN’s approach for a long time. SONNET is an international project with partners across Europe who will share knowledge. Half of the community buildings in Bristol are owned by Bristol City Council, but are often left out of Bristol City Council energy upgrades. This project aims to understand how to unlock these. BEN is doing some engagement work on this project. Learn more about SONNET here.

Updates from Hurtwood, BEC and Re:work

Kevin Williams from Hurtwood shared their approach to building optimisation and heating controls. They have built their building management system (BMS) themselves, locally, and it is very flexible in being able to interface with a lot of different existing systems that might have been installed in a building previously.  To find out more see their website (link).

Andy O’brien from Bristol Energy Co-operative gave us an update on next steps for rooftop solar, now that the Feed in Tariff has ended.  He also introduced Will Houghton as the new project development officer for BEC. 

Vicky Beckwith from Re:work, based in Filwood, gave another case study of community-based activity. As with HWCP, Re:work have been supporting people in the local community during the Covid-19 crisis, and reflecting on how learning from this experience can be brought into ongoing work. We have featured Re:work as member of the month in the BEN July newsletter.

Breakout rooms

The final part of the meeting involved breakout rooms, where groups of 5-6 participants considered five questions. Some of their answers are listed below: 

How do we persuade community buildings to install energy efficiency measures & renewable energy?

  • Highlight benefits e.g. money saved, carbon targets, payback on investment
  • Education of the boards & members. 
  • Having a strategy – knowing what can be done.
  • Organise training courses for building manager or roadshow to other exemplar buildings in the city.
  • Promote the community building as a local ‘centre of excellence’ for energy efficiency once some measures have been installed
  • Community buildings can be a demonstration to local residents and building users of what is possible in their own homes.


What are the barriers to installing energy efficiency measures?

  • Length of tenancy agreement prevents large investment – need good length in tenancy agreement. One community group reported that Bristol City Council were not interested in offering them a longer tenancy agreement and told them that they cannot have any money towards repairs or maintenance.
  • Challenges / lack of opportunities for those renting a building (lease issues and what occupants are allowed to do)
  • Awareness of boards to take action, awareness of what needs to be done,
  • Funding is the major barrier for community groups, where the landlord eg Council has transferred the asset, and with it the building liability.
  • Projects too small on their own to be of interest to commercial investors
  • Lack of expertise within building management, where the priority is capital refurbishments rather than energy investments
  • Lack of impartial advice – installers often promoting a single or small range of products.
  • Lack of innovation and a holistic view of the strategic energy needs of the building
  • Management resource: Lack of time to focus on energy needs.
  • Understanding the business case: some low cost measures such as loft insulation and LEDs can be procured and installed with little cost, but the highest consumption items such as heating have much longer paybacks and need external funding.
  • Funding sources: hard to keep track – can there be a central dynamic tracker which is searchable against eligibility criteria.
  • Issues where the system is no longer working but staff / occupants no longer work there so there is no one to go back to / ask. Examples where the technology for integrated systems is in place but isn’t being used properly.


How might they/we fund these measures?

  • Some community groups have the money but not a long enough tenancy so only undertake work when something is broken or needs updating like heating controls.
  • Some have their own funds and plans to upgrade buildings as part of their response to the Climate Change.
  • Commercial lenders might be interested 
  • Grant applications may be available eg local authority, local energy co-operative RE fund, corporate green fund. Important to know what the building management want to achieve, rather than shaping their project to a particular grant application.
  • The need for grants (we spent a while talking about the difficulties of grant support not being available)
  • CHEESE surveys for community buildings would de-risk the project to make them more attractive to investors.


How do we see our community building’s role in supporting the NetZero and End Cold Homes target 2030 for Bristol?

  • Flyers in buildings to raise awareness of Climate Change and what the building is doing.
  • Flyers promoting help like the WHAM project & CHEESE project.
  • Training community members & staff. We also touched upon the need / opportunities for upskilling local labour


What would participants like to add?

  • It’s great that projects like CHEESE project exist 
  • Wish we had had the survey sooner as we have found more problems with the new building than the old. 
  • We would have also benefited from a control system similar to the HWCP one installed by Hurtwood as our systems are not working well together at all and have to manually switch them off.