Community Efforts to Save Energy

A logical solution to austerity is to share more. It’s also a logical solution to high carbon emissions. And even to making friends and getting things done.

That’s what neighbours are doing around England through the Streets-wise programme from Transition Town Totnes. Runner-up in community organisation network Locality’s Peer Learning Competition, the programme is enabling seven new project teams in England set up money and energy-saving neighbourhood projects based on Transition Streets.

Transition Streets, which won an Ashden Award for behaviour change in 2011, is a peer-support scheme where groups of neighbours make small changes together in how they use energy, water, food, packaging and transport. Not only do they save money on bills and cut carbon emissions, they soon find themselves sharing a glut of vegetables or expensive tools, ferrying each other’s recycling to the centre or group-buying solar-PV. They’re rekindling a generosity not encouraged in our consumer-driven economy.

New project teams in Kingsteignton, Blewbury, St Albans, Herefordshire, Dorchester, Reading and Suffolk are in varying stages of setting up their new Streets projects with Streets-wise support.

�?It’s been a journey of discovery to find out how the project can work in different communities’, says Mary Popham of Streets-wise. �?What powers all of them though is neighbourliness in response to our challenging financial and environmental times.’

Kingsteignton Transition Together groups share learning

The Streets-wise programme shares four years of learning and materials from Totnes, including a chance to practice the �?over the garden fence’ pitch to neighbours.

�?I think one of the things that struck me was the Streets’ project evaluation, which shows why neighbours join Transition Streets,’ says Kate Forrester of Transition Dorcester. �?The things in big letters weren’t energy-efficiency: they were saving money and getting to know your neighbours. I don’t want to be seen as a wacky green, so I’m planning to talk to my neighbours about these things instead’.

This approach has paid off for Transition St Albans who have successfully used the project to raise local awareness of sustainability like nothing before. Ninety per cent of those getting involved in their Streets project were new to their organisation. And one, Gail Jackson, was so keen she become part of the project management team.

�?Without the Streets-wise session, it would have been much harder to approach neighbours I didn’t know about a local meeting’, says Gail. �?Instead I felt grounded in a particular approach: the day helped create a vision and carry it forward’. Gail went on to start an enthusiastic 11-strong Transition Streets group in her street after her training.

The project can be adapted to tie in to a range of energy efficiency initiatives. In Herefordshire, for example, sustainability organisation New Leaf are energetically using an adaptation of Streets to deliver the government’s new Green Deal Assessments in their Energy Savers scheme.

Herefordshire New Leaf with Streets-wise trainers

�?We’ve been thinking a lot about what incentives might get people involved in cutting their energy use’, says Dave Prescott, co-manager of h.Energy Savers. �?So we require our groups to have finished the chapter on energy before they can have a Green Deal assessment. But we think a cash incentive or skillshares could be very good way to encourage householders to take part in the future.’

The new teams include local authority consortiums, sustainability groups or voluntary action organisations. As well as enabling households to save money and carbon and to become more environmentally aware, the project has also strengthened communities to take action for themselves.

�?What’s exciting about Streets is its capacity to energise so-called ordinary people into action about the things that matter to them’, says Frances Northrop of Transition Town Totnes. �?Whether it’s supporting and helping each out more, setting up a new community garden or fundraising to get a community project off the ground – it has the power to bring people together to make things happen at a very local level’.