Lighting up Manchester with community energy

Eighteen organisations across Manchester have come together to launch Community Energy GM – a project aimed at lighting up the city with community-owned solar power. Following the recent...

Eighteen organisations across Manchester have come together to launch Community Energy GM – a project aimed at lighting up the city with community-owned solar power.

Following the recent floods in the north west, the issues of climate change and fuel poverty are back in the news. The scheme is raising funds for 20 buildings to get brand new solar rooftops – powering their community activities and strengthening ties within the neighbourhoods.

Some of the groups involved include community centres, the Levenshulme Inspire co-op, Hulme Community Garden Centre, and the Manchester Settlement – a centre aimed at supporting young people in care by providing housing, alternative education and mentoring.

The project is the brainchild of the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations (GMCVO) and climate change charity 10:10.

Deeplish Community Centre l-r: Zahir Ishan , administrator, Sohail Ahmad, manager and Abdullah Khan, site manager (photograph: Chris Bull)
Deeplish Community Centre l-r: Zahir Ishan, administrator, Sohail Ahmad, manager and Abdullah Khan, site manager (photograph: Chris Bull)

GMVCO helps develop and deliver a variety of projects to strengthen the voluntary sector in Greater Manchester.

Alison Crush, project co-ordinator at GMCVO said: “With three of our projects based in Rochdale, the floods are really in people’s minds, but it’s imperative we take action on issues like fuel poverty and energy efficiency in the area too.

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“Here’s a way we can work together to take really positive, practical action on both climate change and fuel poverty, and help boost the budgets of some dedicated community projects in the process.”

The solar rooftops will save the groups money on their electricity bills, but there is also a strong community aspect to the fundraising campaign.

Amy Cameron, campaign manager at 10:10 said: “Solar panels aren’t just a nice thing to have for these groups. Every penny they can save on their electricity bills can be put to good use elsewhere. And in the wake of such disastrous flooding, it’s a practical way to tackle climate change too.

“We know from our work with schools how powerful community crowdfunding for solar panels can be – bringing people together, as well as working to save money and the planet.”

10:10 is funded by a combination of individuals, charitable trusts and corporate sponsors, and has had previous success in crowdfunding. Since 2011, its Solar Schools campaign has installed 1,000 solar panels on schools across the UK and helped raise half a million pounds.

Each group is hoping to raise a minimum of £3,000. They’ll be running events and asking for donations from friends and local businesses. The first fundraising stage runs until June and has a target amount of £50,000.

As well as raising the cash, the groups will each set up their own community benefit society to raise the remaining funds for the panels by issuing a share offer.

Disability Stockport and Ridgeway (front) and back L-R Stephen Kane and Kieran McMahon. Pictured with a solar power themed poster made by group members made. (photograph: Chris Bull )
Disability Stockport and Ridgeway (front) and back L-R Stephen Kane and Kieran McMahon. Pictured with a solar power themed poster made by group members made. (photograph: Chris Bull )

Community Energy GM has been made possible by feed-in tariffs – a government scheme that gives small payments to homeowners or businesses that install and generate their own clean energy. However, this initiative has now been cut and is no longer receiving new entrants. Community Energy GM was able to push through this programme by pre-registering the buildings involved, giving them one year to get their panels funded and up-and-running while still receiving the feed-in tariffs.

One group which has already benefited is St John’s Sunshine, a green energy co-op in Old Trafford. A previous community scheme allowed 39 solar panels to be installed on the roof of St John’s Church. The group provides what they call ‘sunshine grants’ – such as drop-in food banks for asylum seekers, beehives for a local allotment, and has helped fund ‘open gardens day’, encouraging people to meet their neighbours.

Rev. John Hughes, one of the founder members of St John’s Sunshine says: “People like the St John’s Sunshine model – a business, run by volunteers, with a co-operative heart for both community and environment. We are only a small community energy project but we feel like we’re making a difference. That’s why we are excited about joining with other communities across Greater Manchester to add to that difference and show local people that another way is possible.”

  • You can find more information on the project, including how to make a donation from £5, at http://www.cegm.org.uk.
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