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I love it when a plan comes together: Community energy mentoring in action
4th March 2015
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I had a great time last week at the Powering Up North conference, a Manchester gathering of community energy projects and enthusiasts. It was lovely to see so many people that have been colleagues and allies in my past few years’ worth of work on such an interesting issue.

But what I  really appreciated was seeing the results of something that had been long in the planning. When I started working with Co-operatives UK to support community energy, back in 2010, it was clear that changes to policy and regulation were needed if community energy was to reach its potential. But there was a more prosaic need, as well: for new groups to get really good advice and support, from people who had been through the process.

So I helped to design a Peer Mentoring Scheme for community energy projects. The principle is simple: successful community energy organisations are supported, and paid a fee, to mentor new groups. This creates a mutual support network of groups, old and new, who could share experience and avoid many of the difficulties that come from starting from scratch.

We were delighted that the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation agreed to fund the project, which began last year and is hosted and supported by the Community Shares Unit, run by Co-operatives UK.

Since then, fifteen mentors have been recruited, and they’ve been helping thirty new groups through the tough but rewarding process of setting up an energy project.

Which brings me back to the Powering Up North conference. Every way I turned, I bumped into people who had benefited from the project – from new start-ups like Chase Community Solar, who have just completed a successful share offer and have been mentored by Gen Community; to gluttons for punishment MORE Renewables who have taken five new projects under their wing.

It’s so nice to see something that started as a good idea, result in practical change that benefits communities and the environment. And a refreshing change from much of my work, which is about indirect change through policy. As I say in the headline, I love it when a plan comes together.

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Rebecca Willis

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