A (green) helping hand
We have launched a Sustainable Communities programme with Co-operative Energy to help members save energy and alleviate fuel poverty. This builds on the Regional Community programme and uses community and school partnerships to deliver energy savings. Christine Fieldhouse reports.
Published 7 Jul 2017
Most of us are doing our bit for the planet by recycling our newspapers, picking up litter, re-using our carrier bags and conserving energy by switching off our lights.
Yet The Midcounties Co-operative is several steps ahead, with its sights set firmly on a future that’s green, kind, healthy and happy. Its aim is to encourage children to get out into the countryside and to teach people about renewable energy as well as Fairtrade food. And, where people are struggling, either to put food on the table or to pay their electricity or gas bill, it will also offer support. Sounds too good to be true? Well, it isn’t. The Midcounties Co-operative gave £1.6 million back to the community in 2016 alone.
The project that’s making all this possible – the Sustainable Communities programme – is a continuation of the two-year-old Regional Community programme, that teams up 20 areas in The Midcounties region – among them Walsall, Shrewsbury, Oxford, Swindon and Cheltenham – with a charity to work with.
‘We wanted a programme that went beyond giving support in the form of money,’ says Mike Pickering, Community and Sustainability Manager for Midcounties. ‘We wanted to work through colleague volunteering and partnerships to build strong communities and legacy projects.’
It has been a huge success. In 2016, colleagues gave some 36,000 volunteer hours as well as raising £133,000 for local charities. One to benefit is the Kemp Hospice in Kidderminster, partnered with the Wyre Forest region. Calling the partnership ‘fantastic’, Cathy Sloan, Head of Fundraising, says: ‘You can see that community is embedded in The Co-op. It’s part of their ethics and they’ve supported us in so many ways.’ Last year and this, the Forest of Dean, Cheltenham and Stroud areas teamed up to run the Gloucestershire Fun Days, raising £60,000 for charity over the two years.
‘Community is embedded in The Co-op. It’s part of their ethics and they have supported us in so many ways’
The Co-operative is now focusing on building even more links with charities, expanding its network of community stakeholders and getting us all more interested in renewable energy. And where better to start than with young people?
‘It’s important to educate the next generation around sustainability and social responsibility. They’re our future members, colleagues and customers,’ says Mike. Midcounties works with schools, colleges and universities in the area, linking sessions to the curriculum.
‘For example, colleague volunteers talk about Fairtrade food in schools,’ explains Mike. ‘And they hold some lessons in our stores. The children learn about local products and growers.’ One of the biggest projects for teenagers in the Midcounties region since 2013 has been the Green Pioneers programme, run in partnership with the Outward Bound Trust. To date, 179 pupils from Year 9 have taken part.
During a week-long stay at an Outward Bound centre in Aberdovey, on the west coast of Wales, 13- and 14-year-olds from eight schools, including Cannock Chase High School in Staffordshire and Shropshire’s Community College Bishop’s Castle, have climbed Mount Snowdon and camped out overnight. Marnie Richards, Midcounties’ Young People Engagement Co-ordinator, explains: ‘While they are there, the pupils also work on a project to implement in their school. They might launch a litter campaign, or see what difference it makes to electricity bills to turn off their computers.
‘It’s a character-building experience. One boy had developed so much that when he went home he put himself forward as a prefect. Another child’s father said his son now wants to spend more time outdoors. ‘Some of our Green Pioneers have been so inspired they’ve gone on to travel to Nepal and Everest Base Camp,’ Marnie says.
The Sustainable Communities programme aims to educate both children and adults about renewable and community-owned energy. The Society is working with a range of partner schools to deliver an educational programme to look at how people can join forces to have wind turbines built in their village and get a financial return on the profits, as well as how solar panels convert the sun’s energy to power.
But, until more of us have solar panels and a stake in a wind farm, there are still gas and electricity bills to pay, and people suffering fuel poverty will struggle. The Co-operative Energy business works to alleviate fuel poverty through education and financial support.
In addition, customers can go to The Co-operative’s Energy Saving website for advice (cooperativeenergy.coop/co-operative-energy-saving), and organise a no-obligation site visit to find out where they can save energy in their homes. The final message on sustainability is based close to The Co-operative’s heart. Mike Pickering concludes: ‘We want to educate people about our business model and get them to look at the three things we do with our profits. We reinvest them back in our business, we distribute them back to members and we support the community.
‘People who are trading with us are, in turn, helping their own local community – sometimes they don’t make the connection that what they spend goes back into the community,’ says Mike.
‘We’re going to do more talks for people at community groups and events so they understand our business model is all about sustainable communities. We want to reach out to members to educate, influence and change behaviours.’
The Society achieved the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development in 2015 and supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Working with members and Co-operative Energy, Midcounties will:
- Educate members about our Co-operative Energy business, our Co-operative, our Society.
- Raise awareness of eco obligation money and work with members to alleviate fuel poverty.
- Inspire the next generation through education and examples of best practice to live our Co-operative Values.
- Offer our communities energy-saving advice, products and services.
- Encourage members to join Co-op Energy.