News

Big Energy Saving Network - Grant Award

MEA has secured funding through DECC’s Big Energy Saving Network fund to allow us to train 120 front line staff and directly reach 300 vulnerable householders.

The aim is to help these householders reduce their energy costs through accessing funding for energy efficiency measures and tariff switching. 

For some householders this could result in annual savings of £2-300 per year on heating costs. 

MEA’s Co-Director Simon Ross said ‘We are pleased to have secured this additional funding.  My 3 colleagues Tim Baldwin, Caroline Harmon and Oliver Rothwell are looking forward to helping some of our most vulnerable householders reduce their fuel bills this winter and working closely with partners to achieve this’. 

The project will see us working closely with a range of partners on 3 mini-projects in Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin, Herefordshire and Nottinghamshire.  Our partners include Age UK; Citizens Advice Bureau; Affordable Warmth Network in Herefordshire and 2 Housing Associations – Wrekin Housing Trust and Shropshire Towns and Rural.  In Nottinghamshire we are working with the Local Authority Energy Partnership, Sure Start Centres and Eastwood People’s Initiative.    

Fuel Poverty Consultation response from Marches Energy Agency

Having been involved in this work for over a decade in various guises and through various projects, we feel we are very well placed to help shape a response that actually works, however the challenge feels very significant.
The consultation can be found here (deadline 7th October 2014)
 
Our response:
 
Marches Energy Agency is a West Midlands based energy and fuel poverty charity and social enterprise seeking to address these very complex issues.  We’ve been at it for 15 years.  Staff numbers go up and down and over the last 5 years have dropped from 20-6 reflecting the difficulty of our honest broker energy provision in the current market place.  As honest brokers we build, promote and deliver innovative schemes that help bring householders and communities together to empower action and install measures.  Key to this is our phone line and events offer for all residents of a local authority area.  Through our events – stalls, trailers at fairs, presentations - we seek to reach as wide an audience as possible.  Trust with local partners - local authorities, community groups, installers and other NGOs - is absolutely crucial for us.  Where we are known we are trusted, where we are not we are dismissed as some sort of weird energy company, and the going is very difficult.  We have to win every penny we earn.  More on our work is at www.mea.org.uk   
 
We are currently providing energy efficiency advice lines for 6 Local Authorities and have recently done so in a 7th.  Two of these, Shropshire and Herefordshire, show up very markedly on your fuel poverty map on p19.
 
Answers to questions;
 
2.  Yes
 
3.  We have been working with Park Homes – installers, local residents groups, LA and site owners over the last 3 years trying to find ways to introduce energy saving measures.  On the first site we had nothing to offer apart from general advice.  On the second we had DECC pioneer places funding which lead to a small number of installs.  It also raised the confidence of the residents group and site owner allowing nearly double this number to be installed under GDHIF whilst it was around briefly.  We now await the results of a people’s postcode lottery bid which will allow us to explore this community engagement/ show home approach for a range of other technologies such as LED, advanced heating controls and under-floor insulation.  On a third site we were able to get a few EWIs installed in that narrow window when ECO was still at £80/tonne and once permission had finally been sorted for EWI on PH to be an agreed measure (Feb-Mar 14).  We were able to blend this with HtW as the hh were unable to pay.  For those who were ATP, the technology was too new, and none went for it.  On this site we also explored a DH system through npower which would have been combined with EWI under their ECO, but the landscape shifted in Dec 13.  If this scheme had gone ahead we would be well down this route with huge additional learning available about how to engage a FP community on a significant PH retro-fit project.  The LA is also the site owner.  Both MEA and the LA/ CCG are keen to assess the changes in health that have flowed from the EWI we have managed to undertake, but haven’t been able to get it together – lack of funding. 
 
On some sites issues of sub-metering have meant that tariff switching hasn’t been possible.  Issues of PH longevity and replacement profits for owners have meant that some of the most vulnerable have perhaps been excluded from any potential schemes.  Legislative support would help here.
 
4.
  • With the changes in the ECO consultation announced recently allowing oil boilers to be available we’ve had a small number of cases where ECO qualifying hh have phoned in, but we haven’t been able to offer anything through partner installers.  We have phoned all the Big 6 and none of them are doing oil boilers.  Trying to support off-gas communities as we are, this limitation is very frustrating.  See here for correspondence with DECC.
  • On LPG we find that householders, because the tank is owned by the LPG delivery company, are unable to benefit from oil bulk buying schemes which we see are slowly emerging.  Is this something you could legislate on or are the safety implications for a pressurised tank prohibitive?
  • We were involved in the Shropshire Calor Free project.  We have also tried to recruit and support ‘champions’ in other projects we have run.  It is a very difficult undertaking and given the complexity of energy and the various schemes that run, and then stop, we have found finding, recruiting and retaining champions a very difficult undertaking, especially when they are volunteers.  There’s a very interesting eg of that here - http://transitionstourbridge.co.uk/category/community-groups-projects/low-carbon-communities/.  We worked closely with them from 2009-2011, but once the funding finished then so did their activity on energy – you can see this on their blog profile.  Sometimes you get a shift and a volunteer(s) will give and give to a community around energy – SSCE -http://ssce.co.uk/ and SCC www.strettonclimatecare.org.uk  are both examples of this, although both tend to be around relatively well off communities and focus on technology heavy solutions – pv and electric cars – and less at the fuel poverty end. 
  • We also run the Marches Sustainable Housing Partnership which covers 7 RPs across Shropshire and Herefordshire.  Many of their tenants are off-gas.  From time to time a HA will be able to put together a scheme for some form of technology because it makes sense from a business perspective.  Many of these homes are in fuel poor areas, but aren’t yet moving out from the PR stock to the private stock.  We are hoping to explore/ develop this further with Marches LEP funding where we hope we can understand what projects have been undertaken, and through that to perhaps build a prospectus of opportunity given the high C nature of the heating fuels.  Thought of in these terms, there could well be significant opportunity for a retrofit market/ ECO scheme, but at the moment this rather depends on the ECO scheme and what that may be able to throw up. 
  • Through this partnership we have also been exploring a range of technology options/ installer offers around RHI, DH, insulation and LEDs etc. 
 
5   Anecdotally we find that hh can struggle with heating controls especially when it comes to programmers and renewable technologies. 
 
7/8.    As a local energy charity we are ready (in some areas where we are funded) to advise a hh, their family or professional healthcare worker on what measures may currently be available/ would work best.  We can then refer that through to a list of carefully selected installers who could in theory undertake any work.  Our relationship with many local organisations such as the local Age UK (with whom we are informally operating such a service now), is good and we can take calls/ advise.  Through such projects as Heatsavers in Shropshire our problems start when we get closer to the frontline medical staff, health and well-being boards who have very limited experience of who we are and often seem over-worked and pretty disinterested in what we have to offer.  In other areas, and with a partner organisation Beat the Cold – www.beatcold.org.uk we have started attending flu clinics.  There’s huge attendance at such events, but real resistance to our presence as we are seen merely as a company selling insulation.  Our relationship with LAs certainly helps overcome barriers but so many have been built up through cold calling around loft and cavity wall insulation especially.  This is part of energy just all being lumped together with energy companies and the lack of trust that all entails. 
 
Our experience is also that traditional gatekeepers – family networks, friends, neighbours, frontline workers, often lack to knowledge to engage positively around energy issues. There is a real lack of awareness around energy or willingness to engage sensibly with it given the trilemma of cost, carbon and security.  The result is often, especially for those on very tight budgets that heating and lighting are simply turned off as the only way to save money. 
 
11.  MEA has recently concluded this www.recckn.org.uk in partnership with Keele Uni.  The findings are simple – if you can bring people together for conversation around energy saving tips and measures people enjoy the shared learning.  Over time this can start to give hh the confidence, knowledge and trsut to act more positively rather than suffering in silence. It is a very different approach which seeks to strengthen existing community networks, rather than our very top down approach which assumes an expert is needed to fix a hh problems, and that that person just lives in isolation from everyone else.  This is spawning tiny but successor projects in Dudley, Newcastle-U-Lyme and Shrewsbury. 
 
12/ 13.  There is a tension here.  The best bits of our work rely so often on direct relationships with a whole range of partners from installers to LA, community groups, other NGOs and individual hh.  Trust can only be built over time.  It’s very difficult to get this trust from a remote one-stop shop.  We do use ESAS – their website is excellent as an initial knowledge exchange vehicle, but we have found their advice a bit limited.  Our view is that you need to strengthen and significantly expand local solutions more.  We’ve tried, and continue to explore, making a living from ECO but with referral fees so squeezed (£2) for a cavity wall at the last quote we’d need to be selling 20k installs a year.  This wold then make us the sales arm of the installers and our trust with local networks would very quickly evaporate.  We are very well placed to build local knowledge with all necessary partners, to explore and develop ways to engage FP (and all) hh, to work properly and in a sustained way to upskill the likes of Age UK and CCGs and to find a way to make the FP (and climate change challenge)  exciting and liberating.  In the process is a retro-fit market opportunity which is worth £100’s of millions a year for the next 35 odd years, and that’s just in our part of the West Midlands. 
 
Change has to come and it will and we’d be very happy to work with DECC/ others to drive and create that change. 

Funding available to support the development of resilient communities in Shropshire

Communities across Shropshire are being invited to apply for funding to support projects that maximise energy efficiency, affordable warmth and/or resilience to climate change within their respective communities.

A grant pot of £4,000 is being made available, which will support a minimum of two communities. Support worth up to £2,000 will also be provided to a wider range of groups through a series of workshops and training.  

The funding is aimed at helping communities through the process of;
  • Identifying need in their community
  • Developing solutions 
  • Implementing solutions through supported project delivery
Projects could range from communities supporting vulnerable people in times of adverse weather to organising a community bulk buy of heating fuel or energy efficiency products. We would like to hear from any community about any ideas they may have. 

A community can be any group of people living within the same place or having shared characteristics or interests.  They do not need to be formally constituted to receive support.

Communities should submit their ideas by 5pm on 30th September. NEW DEADLINE 24TH OCTOBER
See Further Guidance or download a copy of the Application Form here 

The project is being managed by Marches Energy Agency (MEA), on behalf of Shropshire Council. 

For more information on the project and to register your interest, please contact Oliver Rothwell  on 01743 277114 or oliver@mea.org.uk 

MEA goes international!

Research findings around ‘making energy discussable’ from our involvement in a major Keele University research project go international!  InternationalInnovation.com

The projects main website can be found at www.recckn.org.uk

Local Food Growing Initiatives

Today we are developing local food growing initiatives in north Staffs with Status Grow and a local allotment group with ambitious plans to install polytunnels, orchard and bees and make the produce available to the wider community. 

Links 

Status Grow

Fenpark Allotments