THE ENERGY TOOLKIT

01. BUILD YOUR TEAM

SETTING UP THE SUSTAINABLE OVERTON ENERGY GROUP

 

We set up Sustainable Overton (SO) after Overton Parish Council declared a climate emergency in September 2019. This is documented in our “How to Set Up a Climate Change Community Group” toolkit. Sustainable Overton is an Overton Parish Council committee with six sub-committees, one of which is the Sustainable Overton Energy Group (SOEG): the SO chair is a parish councillor, and several other parish councillors are also in the group. Your group may also originate from an alternative source, such as a group of friends, members of a sports club or any other local group with a shared passion for tackling the environmental crisis by involving themselves in community projects. Linking with the parish council is an advantage as they are an important stakeholder organisation and can often connect you to the wider community as well. 

LEARNING POINT:

HOW TO RECRUIT MEMBERS

  • At Parish Council meetings and Sustainable Overton meetings, as both are public and advertised on our noticeboard and on social media.

  • Local environmental groups are also valuable sources of members – conservation groups, Greenpeace, Green Party, Transition Groups. 

  • Monthly parish council newsletter (ours is hand-delivered to all residents). 

  • Local noticeboard.

  • Parish Council and your community group website, Facebook pages and other social media.

  • Piggyback on existing social media that has a good local following – local environmental groups, local Facebook groups etc.

  • Be brave and approach existing community groups in your area, or any relevant clubs or societies.

  • Community engagement in the centre of the village with a simple stall and community energy display, was also successful as a recruitment drive. 

  • Make full use of your own networks too and encourage others to do the same. LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram etc. 

  • Be specific about what skills or experience you need – e.g., legal, IT, renewable energy, network experience etc. 

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PARISH COUNCIL SUPPORT

 

If your group is not part of the parish council, see if you can find any parish councillors who have an interest in this, as this will make it easier to get your project off the ground, as well as raising your profile in the community and giving authenticity to the project. It will also allow you access to parish newsletters of other existing communication channels. If you are a parish councillor who wants to gain the support of the rest of the council, we have some suggestions here.

The Parish Clerk: The parish clerks is invaluable, due to their extensive knowledge of the local community and local area, and helps open doors further down the line when you need to speak to landowners, business owners, borough, or county councils.

 

Local energy groups: It is useful to link up with a local energy group if you have one. 

LEARNING POINT:

GAIN THE SUPPORT OF THE PARISH COUNCIL

  • Support and encourage your parish council to declare a climate emergency (if they have not yet done so), and then volunteer to run the community energy group as a parish council led group. This connection will strengthen your community project activities.

  • Build a good relationship with the Parish Clerk, as their local knowledge and contacts are invaluable.

  • Aim for at least one parish councillor in your group.

  • It can also give you access to existing communication channels such as the parish council Facebook or web page, or local newsletter or noticeboard, to enable you to recruit new members and engage with the local community. 

  • It is also key for funding opportunities:  for the RCEF grant (Rural Community Energy Fund), a financial history is required. A parish council can provide this in the first instance. Then, if your project is viable, you can then set up as a cooperative or community benefit organisation and the parish council do not have to be involved. This route tackles a sticking point in our experience, given that setting up a new organisation like this is a huge undertaking, and many parish councillors already work full time, and give up a lot of their free time on other projects, and may be hesitant to take on something of this magnitude. 

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GROWING THE SO ENERGY GROUP TEAM (SOEG)

 

The energy group started with just 3 members in October 2019 but had grown to 10 members by August 2020. This was mainly from the community engagement activities carried out in the village and the personal interaction was key to getting more people on board. Other neighbouring community energy groups can be an invaluable source of information and encouragement in the early days. Almost all of them had gone through the same experiences and they also would have got help from other local organisations. In Hampshire there are a number of very active groups. Alton Energy, Petersfield Energy, Basingstoke Transition, Winchester Action of Climate Change and Basingstoke Energy Co-Operative are excellent examples. Hampshire Climate Action Network is a very active lobbying group working at Hampshire County Council level. Hampshire Renewable Energy Co-Operative is also a good source of material. All these groups contain a wealth of experiences and a huge body of skills and experiences. Talk to them, they will help. We now have a strong group of committed volunteers, who have skills in strategy and business development, the international and sustainable development sector, clean energy, energy networks, and large-scale project management. Bonding is critical. You will all be volunteers and you will all be working hard. It must be fun, or it won’t happen. 

LEARNING POINT:

EFFICIENT AND PRODUCTIVE MEETINGS

  • Focussed and time-bound meetings: This may seem obvious, but we believe it’s important to try to keep meetings on track, focussed, and run in a professional way with a chairperson, an agenda and minutes.  If they drag on, or go off at tangents, it frustrates people and eats into their free time.

  • Be professional: If you are going to set up as a professional community benefit organisation of some kind, it is sensible to start as you mean to go on. 

  • Outcome focus: Each conversation or meeting should have a desired outcome. No-one wants to attend a meeting that meanders and ends up with no tangible progress. 

  • Team bonding: If teams want to stay afterwards and have a more social chat or meet up separately that is different. And in fact, it is great for team bonding! 

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The SOEG shared its learning with the rest of the Sustainable Overton (SO) volunteers and parish councillors via regular monthly SO steering committee meetings and by sharing information on Dropbox. We met on a monthly basis, ensured we had a written timed agenda for each meeting and a chairperson to keep the team to the hour’s meeting. We nominated someone to take the minutes, with clear actions, and circulated the minutes via email after the meeting, so everyone was clear about who was doing what and when. We met either in our community centre (for large public meetings) or at someone’s house or the pub for meetings pre-COVID, and in a garden or via Zoom, depending on COVID-regulations in place at the time.  

LEARNING POINT

COVID-19 CHALLENGES

  • Use technology well: Zoom can be efficient but is tiring to use for long periods of time. Meetings might have to be shorter, and even more efficient to keep people involved at this difficult time.

  • Keep people involved and motivated: it has become more important to communicate via email, phone and WhatsApp, to keep people motivated and engaged, so that everyone is kept in the loop and can contribute.

  • Be creative and find other ways of doing things: We are putting more things online now – such as videos, workshops, articles, and blogs. We have are purchapurched sing some phone apps for thermal imaging and hiring them out to parishioners with on online video of how to survey their house, and then how they might tackle any common issues.

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LEARNING POINT

LOOK AFTER YOUR VOLUNTEERS

  • Stress and burnout: We have learned that volunteers have to step away or leave at certain times for a variety of reasons – be that work pressure or family issues, illness, new babies, other commitments, personality clashes, or sometimes people can give too much and get burnt out. This is particularly important to watch out for, as this is a situation that we all want to avoid.  People can only give so much, so it’s important to have enough coverage so that the work can be spread out effectively and fairly. 

  • Be mindful of other’s mental health: at this difficult time there are a multitude of stresses. Obvious, but take extra care of your volunteers in these times of COVID. 

  • Be kind and supportive: It probably seems obvious, but it’s important to treat all volunteers with respect and kindness and provide support to each other when things seem overwhelming. Also, as in any organisation there can be clashes of ideas or personalities, which is fine if you manage them positively.

  • Team bonding: It’s worth spending time getting to know volunteers, having meetings or chats over coffee (when COVID allows of course), and just checking in on them.  It’s not only an important investment in each person, it’s also very effective in finding out what people’s strengths are.

  • Identify and play to your strengths: This enables tasks to be changed around to suit these.

  • Foster a positive and understanding culture: This means that people feel they can step away for a bit and then come back later without worrying they have let anyone down. What you do need though, is someone or some people with enough 

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