Energy Conversations – How do we help to create behavioural, social and political change in Bristol’s communities

By Libby Watts & Ingrid Wadman

On 26th April, the Bristol Energy Network held an evening open meeting at The Pickle Factory, with a range of participants from a variety of backgrounds. The purpose of the event was to discuss the idea of ‘Energy Conversations’ project with the aim of forming a collective opinion and plan of how to co-ordinate communication efforts from all groups and areas of the city. The event brought together many of the network members who were considering developing a crowd funder campaign for their energy projects.

As an opener, four speakers were asked to provide a 10 minute talk on projects which their organisations have delivered, and which they feel have been a success in engaging people in energy issues. The speakers were asked to comment on their approach, the type of change they hoped for, the audience, the impact of the project and whether the project was a success, and what they learned from it.

Green and Black Ambassadors photo3 cropThe first speaker was Marie Bryant, from the ALS Energy Group (Avonmouth, Lawrence Weston and Shirehampton). Marie discussed the approach they took to a community-led wind turbine project which they had achieved some success with. The project was particularly positive due to the amount of public engagement held with local residents – Marie said this was helped by face-to-face communication, as well as postal surveys, and because the residents have a particular interest in local development projects due to extensive industrial development of the area, leaving issues with development and affordability for housing for local residents. In addition to this project, the group have been very proactive in promoting and developing interest in a range of other projects including the Lawrence Weston Community Solar Farm, on the eastern edge of Avonmouth. The Bristol Energy Co-op gave a grant of £155,000 to Ambition Lawrence Weston from proceeds from the solar farm, which is being used to support delivery of their community plan. This is seen as a positive step forward in improving the sustainability targets of the area to improve community and local economy. The group have also had strong influence of the Lawrence Weston Community Plan and the Neighbourhood Development Plan, to ensure a community focus future for the area.

The second speaker was Fran Howe, from Biofuelwatch. Fran discussed the impact that their group has had on the various large-scale industrial biofuel power stations, and their collaborative effort of campaigning and providing information to block the development of these construction projects. One particular project mentioned was their action against the Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire, and various other non-sustainable biomass plants across the UK, in particular their work on assisting local campaigns for the ‘Avon Coalition Against Biomass’.

Next to speak was Jazz Ketibuah-Foley, a representative of the Green & Black Ambassador initiative, which aims to give the black and ethnic minority community support in developing and promoting environmental and sustainability programmes in Bristol. Jazz spoke of their work in engaging the community, and how they had achieved this – mainly through speaking with residents and initiating conversations about issues which are important to them. Jazz spoke of the issues and successes they have had during their engagement, particularly in relation to the ways in which discussions can be helped – importance being placed on providing basic information, getting residents and communities talking to each other and having enough time and communications to ensure that voices are heard, and decisions are influenced by this, rather than being influenced as a top-down approach.

IMG_5552 cropLast on the programme was Stuart Phelps, from RADE (Residents Against Dirty Energy). Stuart discussed the various ways that their group had approached communities to make them aware of how local developments and projects, particularly those where environmental impact was negative, could have a potentially detrimental effect on their communities and their children. The group approached the issues with a ‘hearts & minds’ agenda, focusing on families and well-being, which worked well and has influenced the development of a more environmentally sound project to replace the previous diesel power station plans. In addition, Stuart described a very interesting engagement session that they had with local taxi drivers, which gave an alternate view on the group’s agenda to improve air quality and reduce the use of diesel powered cars in the area – that being how this push to reduce the number of diesel powered cars would affect the lives and livelihood of those employed as taxi drivers in the area, who potentially cannot afford to buy efficient/electric or hybrid cars.

The speakers gave a succinct and interesting view of the various projects across the City, which led suitably into the group workshops. Each group was made up of a good range of groups and individuals – each were tasked to decide on a project for community engagement, and how this could form a collaborative effort amongst all the energy focused groups across Bristol. After some very intensive sessions, it was agreed that the following could be considered:

  • Fuel poverty and how to help lower income and vulnerable people and families
  • Possibility of tackling landlords and ensuring political decisions are made to ensure energy efficiency in rented properties
  • Engaging communities on DIY solutions – draught proofing etc.
  • Encouraging well-being and financial savings over pushing ‘green’ ideas on the environment and climate change
  • LED retrofits for older housing
  • Benefits for householders, rather than energy companies or local government
  • Making energy cheaper and more affordable
  • Advertising campaigns for energy efficiency and the benefits involved
  • Approaching schools and community centres – making workshops and discussion more community focused
  • Ensuring the language used is easy to understand
  • Mapping community projects across the City
  • Making details available on resources and information, and free smart meters

Since the meeting BEN has joined forces with member groups Bedminster Energy Group, Re:work and Easton Energy Group to work on a joint Energy Conversations project which we will be seeking funding for through the Bristol Green Capital crowdfunding opportunity. The crowdfund will launch 1 June. Get in touch if you’d like to get involved.