COP26 is currently taking place in Glasgow, where world leaders will wrestle with the urgent issue of the climate crisis. To mark the occasion, Hannah Roberts, Marketing Officer at Locality, a national network supporting community organisations to be strong and successful, speaks to two members of Locality who took on social investment to finance their environmental work.

Energise Sussex Coast

Locality member Energise Sussex Coast is a community energy co-operative that was set up in 2012 to tackle fuel poverty in Rother and Hastings in Sussex. Their mission is to act cooperatively to tackle the climate crisis and energy injustice through community-owned renewable power and energy-saving schemes. 

Kate Meakin, Project and Operations Manager at Energise Sussex, explains, “We have an amazing opportunity for communities to be part of the new clean energy revolution and to benefit from it. This means communities generating their own renewable energy and in doing so having energy security and control over pricing.” With many draughty Victorian homes in the local area, insultation and solar power is key to making homes energy efficient, saving locals money, and creating jobs in the area.

Energise South, a sister co-op to Energise Sussex set up with the help of Energy 4 All, raised finance for its solar installations from community investors. In total, the co-operative has raised £450,000 from community investors, who each then becomes a co-operative member. To date, Energise South has used the funding to finance solar power installations on five schools, a church hall, a charity and a business centre. The co-operative quickly raised all the money needed to meet the costs, and this year was able to pay out interest to its investors.

According to Kate, social investment and “building back greener” align extremely well. “Community share offers increase participation and democracy. It’s a very useful tool for communities to be able to initiate and fund their own projects without having to be reliant on grants or trying to use a corporate model. Community shares mean that there is a lot more local investment in terms of both finances, but also interest and support. It also opens the door to more local projects.”

Kate advises other organisations considering social investment: 

Quote from Kate Meakin, Energise Sussex

Quote from Kate Meakin, Project and Operations Manager at Energise Sussex.

CREW Energy

Another amazing Locality member who has used social investment in their work to tackle the climate crisis is CREW Energy, a Wandsworth-based voluntary group. CREW promotes and implements renewable energy and sustainability projects for the benefit of communities. 

In April 2020, CREW won a grant of £98,000 from Power to Change’s Next Generation fund (Next Gen), to develop community models for renewable heat. CREW also raised an additional £50,000 via a community share offer, partly funded by the local community and matched funded by the Community Booster Scheme.

CREW aimed to increase community uptake of heat pumps: electrically powered devices that absorb heat from the air, ground or water around a building, and which can save energy and money compared to gas boilers. The project focussed on three main areas:

  1. Installations in civic centres, schools and charity buildings
  2. Communal heating for blocks of flats
  3. Helping local residents migrate to renewable heating.

CREW felt that social investment and “building back greener” were a natural fit – “like hand in glove”, as Director Toby Costin puts it. CREW was able to work with funders who would value the social and environmental impact of their work as well as consider the economics of the investment. 

“Social investment also comes with a support network that helps you develop your ideas. The Centre for Sustainable Energy have offered support time and again through our Next Gen journey.”

CREW’s work has had a tangible impact, with a heat pump project for a civic centre already delivered, which will save the centre 17 tonnes of carbon a year and £1,000 on their bills. Another heat pump project is planned for a local theatre. CREW has also held webinars to help the community understand the environmental and economic benefits of heat pumps, which led to several delegates installing their own heat pumps.

“Our aim is always to deliver a return on the investment, lower the running costs for our client, cut carbon and improve air quality and leave a legacy of social improvements. These social improvements could be education programmes for children, helping residents who are struggling with their energy bills or helping the local community understand these new technologies better,” says Toby. 

CREW’s experience with social investment has not been without its challenges. Reporting back to Next Gen proved to be a time-consuming process, so Toby recommends that other organisations always factor this into their plans. The community share offer process required the involvement of many staff members to be successful. CREW decided to obtain the Standard Mark, a tough achievement, in order to apply for the Community Booster scheme.

To aid fellow organisations seeking social investment, CREW feels that support to navigate the range of different types of social investment lending would be beneficial, with more local marketing from funding organisations and local authorities.

Since taking on social investment, CREW Energy has gone from strength to strength, and is now reaching the stage to offer training in new skills and creating employment in this growing sector.

Toby’s advice for organisations considering social investment? “Go for it. The type of funding we received was transformative and really moved us to the next level in our growth process.

Quote from Toby Costin, CREW Energy

Quote from Toby Costin, Director at CREW Energy. 

If you're a Social Enterprise or Charity and you're interested in exploring social investment as a way to finance or scale-up your environmental work, check out our Is It RIght For Us Tool, which will help you to determine next steps. In addition, our Fundmapper tool lists over 150 social investors, advisors and funds and allows you to filter by your own search criteria - search today to find your potential social investors! 

Locality’s annual Convention will take place from 16-18 November, both online and in person in Birmingham. It offers unique access to the most inspiring and pioneering leaders, policy-makers, thinkers and doers, whose ambitious work is transforming our communities. Tickets are available now!