Andrew Ormerod is a member of the UK team (consisting of Global Biotechnology Transfer Foundation and University of Surrey CRESS) involved in the EU funded ISABAL community biogas project linked to social innovation with partners in Germany and Greece. The original article is here http://isabel-project.eu/snowball-anyone-the-value-of-social-interaction-when-developing-community-biogas-projects/
Use of this kind of networking technique has already produced some interesting results. Early on when we surveyed good examples of community energy projects we came across a successful project in Cheshire ‘Going Carbon Neutral – Ashton Hayes’. They have over ten years of community engagement experience to reduce personal household energy use – and develop community energy projects. In Ashton Hayes the idea for the various low carbon and renewable energy schemes started as a conversation in the local pub. This lead to discussions with the local council to get approval at an early stage. They wrote to local businesses who liked their story and they successfully gained sponsorship for their first large public meeting and the filming of events leading up to it. The village school children wrote and performed a special song for their first anniversary meeting in 2007. This brought along their parents and helped to fill the village hall! It was also the premiere for their first film about the project.
There are a couple of additional interesting aspects of what they do and how they do it. The committee, or board, that now runs the energy company, consists of six people in total currently. Garry Charnock who has been involved with publicity and funding; Roy Alexander technical issues, research and surveying and Kate Harrison with community support ably assisted by two other members of community dealing with accounts and funding and the local vicar dealing with community liaison and outreach. They can also call on the assistance from many others in the village when they need to. In relation to community engagement they arrange events in their village on a regular basis to keep the level of interest in energy saving and renewable energy alive and fun. At the base of what they do is a personal household challenge to save money by using energy saving techniques. In addition to this they have their renewable energy schemes linked to a community energy company. One of the committee Roy Alexander is an academic – an environmental geographer who is also interested in social geography and over a ten-year period from 2006- 2016 has organised student’s surveys of householder’s success in saving energy. All this has helped to embed the ideas of household energy saving and renewable energy within the community.
They did investigate the potential of biogas linked to food waste a few years ago as one possible form of renewable energy – but didn’t develop this further at the time. In common with many areas of the UK, there is currently a shortage of readily available food waste from the public sector. This is due to long-term contracts with companies to dispose of council collected food waste. However they have successfully installed several solar PV projects feeding into the grid. They have countered the current trend of closing village facilities and have re-opened a community shop and are planning to do something very similar with the pub. Community biogas is being considered here again as one possible project linked to some of their future community developments.
Ashton Hayes were pioneers at an early stage of interest in community energy and with their attractive strap line ‘Going Carbon Neutral’, which is proudly displayed as you enter the village. It has attracted and still attracts a lot of media attention. A journalist from the New York Times was visiting when I got in contact with Garry Charnock for the first time.