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Lighting up Greater Manchester with community-owned solar

The recent floods and cold weather have made issues of climate change and fuel poverty all the more pressing for many in the North West.

This week, community groups from across Greater Manchester will be taking matters into their own hands with the launch of Community Energy GM.

This ambitious project aims to give twenty community buildings gleaming new solar rooftops – boosting budgets for vital services, cutting carbon and building a network for action on fuel poverty in the process.

The 18 groups involved include community centres, cafes, a gym and garden centre, churches and the 120 year old Manchester Settlement.

They provide a range of activities and services in their local area, including IT training, dance classes for all ages, furniture re-use, and support for people living with disabilities.

The first fundraising stage will run until June, with a target of £50,000. This will be followed by a public share offer for those who would rather invest than donate, with solar panels likely to be installed in August and September.

All sites were pre-registered so won’t be affected by recent cuts to support in solar power, though they do have to be funded, installed and plugged into the grid before the cuts hit in September.

One of the project’s members, St John's Sunshine based at St John’s Church in Old Trafford, already has 39 solar panels from a previous community energy scheme.

The funds generated from this array have supported ‘sunshine grants’ made to a drop-in food bank for asylum seekers, beehives for a local allotment and helped fund an 'Open Gardens Day' to encourage local people to meet their neighbours.

The solar rooftops will save the community groups money on their electricity bills, but the process of fundraising is also designed to help forge stronger links with the wider community.

Alongside fundraising activities, throughout the year the groups will be working together to share views on how energy is used in the area, creating a skilled network ready to work together to address energy efficiency and fuel poverty across Greater Manchester.

Community Energy GM is supported by Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations (GMCVO) and the climate change charity, 10:10.

It follows GMCVO’s Generating Success initiative which saw Millgate Arts Centre, Moss Brook Growers, Ellenroad Steam Museum and Mellor Country House all install solar panels or biomass in Summer 2013.

Community Energy GM also draws on the community crowdfunding expertise of 10:10’s Solar Schools programme. Solar Schools has successfully installed over 1000 solar panels on schools across the UK, helping schools deepen relationships with their local communities as well as engage the public with energy and climate change issues in the process.

"Solar panels aren't just a nice thing to have for these groups," said Amy Cameron, Campaign Manager at 10:10.

"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."

"With three of our projects in 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," added Alison Crush, Project Coordinator at GMCVO.

"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. We can’t wait to get stuck in!"

Discover more and get involved by sponsoring a project here.