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Energy Academy Pilot

Manchester is my Planet (MiMP) was an initiative coordinated by Manchester: Knowledge Capital (M:KC) on behalf of the Manchester city region. It brought together a wide range of organisations as part of a pilot initiative to build low carbon skills and capacity. The start point of the MiMP programme is blurred and its legacy continues through a web presence, though it is often described as running between 2008 and 2011.

One of the projects that MiMP was centrally involved in was the Energy Academy. The aim of the Energy Academy project was to recruit volunteers who were willing to be trained by the sustainable development charity, Action for Sustainable Living (AfSL) in ‘communicating climate change’ to local residents.

The volunteers operated in the Greater Manchester borough of Trafford and would also refer people to the domestic energy efficiency services offered by the Greater Manchester office of the national Energy Savings Trust Advice Centre (GM ESTAC) network.

There is a long developmental history to the Energy Academy project, with two previous phases of development being characterised as Plan A (early 2008-Autumn 2008) and Plan B.

In Plan A, MiMP explored the potential of using schools as community hubs for engagement. It developed a bid in early 2008 for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts’ (NESTA) Big Green Challenge. Though the bid for funding was ultimately unsuccessful, the process of bidding served to strengthen relationships between some of the bidding partners.

From summer 2008, Plan B began to take shape. This time the project was wholly MiMP-based and was called the 'Energy Academy'. The primary aim of the campaign was to boost the numbers of people pledging as part of MiMP’s climate change pledge campaign.

When Plan A failed, further development of the Energy Academy was prioritised involving M:KC, GM ESTAC and AfSL and focusing on the two Greater Manchester boroughs of Trafford and Stockport. The priorities of the Energy Academy were fourfold:

  1. The Energy Academy would employ part time co-ordinators to recruit, train and support 30 volunteers to work in communities for the benefit of local people.
  2. These volunteers would assist householders to access the energy advice and financial support available locally and nationally, save energy and reduce their wider environmental impacts.
  3. As well as direct support, the Academy would help increase understanding of the benefits of energy efficiency, over and above personal financial savings, and build and embed local capacity for ongoing improvements.
  4. Delivered over one year, the Academy would form one of 6 pilot projects (a Greater Manchester pilot working with the SURF Centre, Salford University) taking place throughout the EU as part of the CHANGING BEHAVIOUR project, and help shape new European guidance for behavioural change interventions.

Additionally, a bidding opportunity was identified in early 2009. The bid, for £50,000, was shortlisted and eventually received £20,000. This meant that the Energy Academy was initially undertaken only in Trafford with the potential to ‘roll out’ the idea to other boroughs if succesful.

The Energy Academy has a developmental history of previous articulations, multiple partners and combinations of partners, different funding streams and the re-working of proposals. The Energy Academy is predicated on the alignment of the differing interests of three sets of intermediaries (MiMP, GM ESTAC, AfSL) where the ways of collaborative working were built over time. Formal launch of the initiative took place on the 24th June 2009.

One of the very clear issues that emerged from the development of the Energy Academy was the way in which the projects' objectives changed as a result of the search for sources of external funding or the expectations of funders. This was, for example, the basis of an extension of the Plan A phase of the project, with its focus on fuel poor communities, to also include, in Plan B, fuel rich communities.

One view from within the project was that engaging the public has to be handled with great care. Engagement has the potential to be invasive and, if you get the engagement wrong, you can find communities are not ‘on side’. This can then make finding champions, promoters and advocates difficult. As the Energy Academy ethos was to avoid elite engagement and use recruits from within the target area to develop, this was a particularly important consideration in certain communities.

In the longer-term, this approach raises two particular sets of challenges. Firstly, there is an issue about how a volunteer base built on limited resources and enthusiasm can be maintained. Even where volunteers would like to keep the project going at the end of its funding, what administrative support and capacity there will be to support this is unknown. Secondly, the low-cost and broad focus of engagement, built on volunteer enthusiasm but also some churn, means that there are issues about how the feedback from engagements with different community groups and householders can be sustained, coordinated and built upon in a systematic and meaningful manner.


Original report written by the author of this piece, available from the author

This article is published here as part of the Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform’s aspiration to raise the visibility of different community innovations, grassroots projects and activities in the city-region.

It also draws on SURF's involvement in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant, 'Retrofit 2050' and contributes to understanding of the Remaking of the Material Fabric of the City.

Find out here about the background, purpose and content of ‘The Alternative?’ series of articles on Platform.