This blog post has been written by the hosts of the Bristol City Lab kick-off event from Bristol City Council, Bristol Energy Network and others. Thank you for your contribution!
How can we be socially innovative as communities and respond to the challenge of making our community buildings sustainable through energy efficiency improvements?
The SONNET project ‘Bristol City Lab’ was launched at a virtual Open Meeting hosted by Bristol Energy Network (BEN) and Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership (HWCP). 40 people, including representatives from a range of local organisations and other interested citizens, joined the event to hear from a range of interesting speakers active in work areas relevant to the energy efficiency of community buildings, with breakout sessions developing discussions in small groups.
We firstly heard from our hosts who talked about their partnership to work together on improvements to the local community building. HWCP also outlined current challenges during the Covid 19 pandemic. Community work in the area has grown out of previous initiatives and there are opportunities to develop other projects around the community building which is owned and managed by the community partnership.
The SONNET project was introduced by the programme manager for Bristol, Richard Lowe of the BCC Energy Service, who shared his hopes and ambitions for the project to work with communities to explore how community buildings could receive energy efficiency improvements within the current funding environment. Caroline Bird of BEN outlined their role in supporting engagement in the project, working with communities and their buildings. Participants who were linked to community buildings expressed an interest in learning more and being part of the project themselves.
We heard from those working in energy retrofitting on community buildings including installing community owned solar schemes and building management system improvements. ReWork based in Filwood talked about their community engagement activity and there were of course some reflections on the Covid situation from a behavioral aspect, showing that with the right motivation behaviour can change significantly.
Breakout groups hosted some active discussions where key questions included considering the main barriers to improving energy efficiency in buildings. Responses were wide-ranging but financial barriers were a key factor, alongside either lack of relevant expertise amongst building managers or access to impartial, cost-effective, external support. There was a strong feeling that the task of signing up community buildings to be interested in energy efficiency savings was akin to ‘shooting fish in a barrel’. So there is clearly a demand for improving the energy efficiency of community buildings and the benefits of carbon and financial savings are recognised if the financial barriers can be overcome.
Bristol City Lab is setting out to develop an innovative approach to tackling the financial issue alongside delivering social benefits. The project’s next steps are to deliver a community building manager survey, to gather information about buildings, their setup, footfall and energy use to help develop the most effective solution. The City Lab will explore how an alternative finance mechanism, investment based crowdfunding – for example through community municipal bonds – could provide the desired capital to fund these projects whilst also benefiting the wider community.