Composition

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The composition of your core group and volunteer team will affect the relationship between the project and the community. If your group is representative and made up of people who the community trust and can relate to, you will have a head start when it comes to building local support. The bond between the project and the community can be further strengthened if volunteers and members of the core group are able to provide skills which would otherwise have to be brought in from outside the community. The composition of the group will also affect how the group works and what its priorities are, and the ethos of the group and how it is perceived by local people will influence how keen they are to become involved.

Click on the ideas below for practical suggestions and detailed case studies.

Skills

Different skills will be relevant for different types of project, but potentially useful skills include:


Finance. Bringing a financial professional on board, such as an accountant, can add financial rigour to the team, as well as monetary credibility with the wider public.


IT. Having an IT whizz on your team will give you a big boost when it comes to engaging your community via online channels. A web designer can help to give your website a professional look and will make it quicker and easier to regularly update your webpages and add new features.


Marketing. Developing a brand for your group or project, including a name, logo and slogan, can all benefit from guidance from a marketing expert. A team member with marketing experience can also assist with designing and producing publicity materials, as well as advising on where to focus your promotion and how to pitch your project to appeal to your target audience.


Energy. Knowledge of energy efficiency or renewable energy technologies and processes will give you a head start if you are developing a community energy project. Someone with a professional background in the energy sector will be able to provide guidance on steps you need to take, suitable technology choices and could have a practical role in carrying out audits, surveys or assessing feasibility.


Planning process. Knowledge of the planning system will help your group to put together a feasible project that is more likely to secure planning permission. Someone with indirect experience of the planning process could be just as helpful as someone who is specifically a planner by profession.


Business. Experience of running a business will help your group to think entrepreneurially, to draw up a sound business model and to judge when risks are worth taking.


Project management. Complicated projects with long lead times will especially benefit from the guidance of a project manager. Project managers streamline processes and make sure actions follow a logical order, thus keeping everything moving in the right direction.


Events management. Events are likely to be central to your engagement activities. Bringing someone with experience of managing events, especially if you are considering anything particularly large scale or high profile, will facilitate the smooth running of planning, organisation and delivery of events.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Sustainable Charlbury’s core group includes a project manager, an energy expert, a landscape architect, a former solar farm developer, an ecologist, a heritage consultant, a communications expert and a local councillor. This broad range of skills and expertise was invaluable in developing their community owned solar farm project. The landscape architect played a key role in navigating the planning process and meeting landscape and visual impact assessment requirements, and involvement of a heritage consultant was particularly helpful given that the site is within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Country: UK

Brighton Energy Co-operative’s Chairman has a background in business – he has built financial models to do with publishing, travel and online marketing. When the UK Government introduced the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) system, he began building a financial model to assess the business opportunities presented. He found two things: (1) modelling using FITs delivered reasonable returns and (2) renewables were not cheap. He realised that to get a project off the ground would require the involvement of other people – lots of other people. And so he developed a financial model based on community ownership to leverage in more funds and to enable the wider community to benefit from the opportunities. His business and financial skills became increasing important as the group had to adapt to changing levels of subsidy under the FIT system.

Source: Community-Led Photovoltaic Initiatives action pack

Community connections

A range of community connections, socially and professionally, will give your group an existing network to engage with, to call on for support and to provide other wider contacts. Volunteers and group members with the following connections are likely to come in handy:


Community groups. Connections with other community groups pursuing social or environmental aims will give you a pool of potentially interested, passionate and likeminded individuals to engage with.


Community or residents’ associations. Members of community or residents’ associations typically will take an interest in local issues and affairs, have connections with movers and shakers in your area or experience of bringing the community together.


Business. Connections with local businesses may lead to opportunities to gain in-kind support with your finances, legal aspects or simply finding a venue and providing refreshments.


Government. Someone who has connections with the local council may have influential contacts that could help to build support and promote your project. However, it is wise to avoid recruiting members directly from government bodies who may have their own political agenda or conflicts of interest – looking for someone with connections to, rather than taken directly from, the government may work best.


Media. Local media contacts can help with securing features in local newspapers, radio and TV.


Sports groups. Sports clubs and organisations bring people together and promote community spirit, offering a key link to the local community.


Religious groups. Religious groups tend to be tight-knit and take an interest in local affairs and ethical issues. They can provide a large pool of contacts that could provide help or support for your project.


Schools or kids clubs. Connections with schools, through school governors or members of PTA committees, and all types of kids clubs can provide an avenue into engaging with local families.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Low Carbon West Oxford’s community connections gave them a head start when it came to engaging local people. One member of the core group had spent ten years as Chair of the Local Community Association helping to build community interaction. Two others had been key leaders behind other local environmental groups with a large body of members and another had been Chair of the Parent-Teachers Association of the local school. The core group members were able to bring these groups on board to create a critical mass of supporters and to build momentum.

Source: Low Carbon West Oxford and West Oxford Community Renewables (2010), Low Carbon Living: Power to make it possible

Country: UK

Community Energy Birmingham is an Industrial and Provident Society which aims to reduce Birmingham’s carbon footprint by enabling community organisations to install renewable energy systems. It was set up by a trio of green community groups from south Birmingham: Sustainable Moseley, Kings Heath Transition Initiative and Balsall Heath Is Our Planet, giving the group three existing networks who were already engaged from the outset.

Country: UK

Southend in Transition has a group member who works for the local authority and therefore personally knows relevant movers and shakers within the council to contact about their projects. This has helped to secure the group slots at speaker events, such as the council’s annual Low Carbon Conference, as well as meetings with people involved with environmental grants and local sustainability policy. For example, the Sustainability Officer at the council had connections with Pure Leapfrog, a business-led charity that provides social investment and professional support to community energy projects, who they told about the group's plans to develop a renewable energy co-operative. As a result, Pure Leapfrog got in touch with the group and met with them to discuss how Pure Leapfrog could support the project. This provided them with the information, support and momentum to apply for grant funding from DECC and to involve a wide range of people in the application. While their funding application was not successful, this process brought a group of people together in a following meeting which is now driving the setting up of the Southend Community Renewable Energy Co-op.

Representation and diversity

It is important to ensure that your group is as representative of the local community as possible and is not captured by particular interests or groups. Try to involve a mix of different ages and genders and people from different neighbourhoods and cultural and professional backgrounds. This will help to ensure different interests are accounted for, different needs are met, and in turn that support for your project is maximised.


Targeting underrepresented groups. It is not always easy to involve those who are less represented if they are disengaged and harder to reach. One option is to try to personally invite people from underrepresented groups to become involved or to advertise for roles across a wide range of outlets which will reach a variety of different groups.


Group structure and elected members. A group made up of elected individuals will help to ensure that those running the project better represent members’ interests. How representative this outcome is depends on how representative your membership is of the wider community, but it is a step in the right direction. Building representation into your group structure, by requiring the group to include a certain proportions of individuals from different interest groups, for example, will also help.


Offer diverse roles. Having a diverse range of different roles available makes it more likely that a more diverse range of people will be interested in getting involved. See the Roles and responsibilities suggestions for ideas.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Stroudco Food Hub is controlled by a voluntary management group elected from its members. The management group is designed to ensure it is representative of both its consumer and producer members, aiming for a mix of roughly 50% consumer members and 50% producer members.