Workshop 5: Imagining Westwood
Reading time: 7 mins
As autumn sets in, the Oldham Energy Futures groups begin to imagine what a low carbon neighbourhood, that tackles the most pressing energy challenges facing their community, could look like.
With the diagnosis phase of Oldham Energy Futures done, over the next three workshops the groups will come together to reflect on the picture of local energy challenges that they’ve created and explore alternatives and actions most fitting for their neighbourhood. The aim is to create a Local Energy Action Plan that shows a set of recommendations backed by the group ready to be presented to local decision makers, like Oldham Council, Housing Associations and businesses. Where the most pressing need for action is found and where community ownership and action are the most appropriate, the group will be supported to turn their ideas into a seed funded community-led project, helping to build up vital skills held at the neighbourhood level.
Despite the cold weather and a fluke in the Millenium Centre’s heating system, the group in Westwood were not deterred to come along and talk all things energy. Twelve members wrapped up in coats, hats and scarves came back to give their time, whilst taking precautions to keep each other safe by working at a safe distance in the well ventilated sports hall. You can’t knock the determination of this group!
The first ‘imagine’ workshop began with a trip down memory lane covering highlights from the intro, home energy efficiency, green transport in the neighbourhood and local energy generation sessions. Moments shared by the facilitators of ‘remember when you shared about how the kitchen is the place where families gather for company, but also warmth as the only heated room in the house?’ and ‘we walked around the neighbourhood together and you spoke about how as a driver you wouldn’t want traffic calming measures, but as a pedestrian you would love it?’ were met with nods and smiles as the memories came back.
With the room alit with conversation reminiscing on the journey of the last few months, talk began to focus in on which of the challenges and opportunities had stood out for participants. Britt, one of the Oldham Energy Futures facilitators, encouraged everyone to share challenges they remember both ‘big like fuel poverty or, as we prefer to call it, fuel vulnerability being a real issue in this area, or smaller like the lack of bus stops in the area to encourage access’. A collection of all of the challenges were captured on a flip chart paper posted on the wall.
With all of the issues gathered each person was invited to share what they felt were the most important opportunities for the neighbourhood. These didn’t need to be an idea that they had individually thought up. Instead everyone was encouraged to share anything that had caught their attention during the last workshops, big or small, that they would like to look at in more detail.
“Traffic calming is something that others would really support in this area.’’
Three early themes began to emerge on the need for improved sustainable transport, a central hub providing advice on energy efficiency at home and increased renewable energy generation that could be located within and power the neighbourhood. Transport measures were top of the list with ideas for improving the cycle and walkability within the neighbourhood and connecting to Oldham, an e-scooter scheme, cheaper public transport options, traffic calming measures and a one-way Featherstall Road all shared.
To finish off the morning, we time travelled to 2050 to imagine what the day in their life could look like. The guide asked…
- What would your home feel like?
- Now stepping out into the outside area of home…what can you see?
- What is the air like?
- What technology do you see?
- Friday prayer is taking place; how do you and others travel there?
- What is Featherstall Road like?
- Stop across the road to Millennium Center, what’s the purpose of the millennium centre today?
- What energy powers it?
From these visions for 2050 Westwood were drawn out on flip chart paper and shared back with the group. Community owned vegetable schemes, extremely energy efficient homes, clean air to breathe, electric cars, solar atop the roofs of homes were all mentioned, with robots also getting their fair share of attention!
“We need organisations that we can
trust supporting us.”
After a fabulous lunch we shook off the post-food slump with a hot seat debate around ownership of future energy services. We shared our thoughts on whether some of the ideas mentioned earlier in the day would work best as a publicly, privately or community owned form. Each came back with a different preferred set-up. For e-bikes or e-scooters there was a unanimous preference for a fully community owned scheme with the group feeling that they were well placed to encourage uptake within the neighbourhood. The energy efficiency and e-charging schemes their size and complexity originally led us to believe that they may lend themselves best to being local authority run, although after a little discussion some of the group started to question whether they couldn’t play a more active role, as they could bank both on local trust and understanding of needs and culture. Whilst for solar people felt that mixed ownership would work best with private installers, public funding and community benefit locked in through profits being invested directly within the neighbourhood.
One person shared how important getting the ownership of service right would be for winning back trust after some botched local schemes. They told a story about a householder who was surprised to find that they no longer owned their roof after having solar owned by a business installed on their roof, causing them on-going problems. Any organisation supporting neighbourhoods to change energy needs to stand out from these ‘cowboys’ so that people can make the changes that they would like to see knowing that they can trust that the organisation has their best interests at heart.
“Better insulation for all’’
We spent the rest of the afternoon digging deeper into the ideas and began to tease out where you might start. We began by placing the project ideas in order of priority for cutting carbon emissions. Recalling what had been covered in the home energy efficiency session, we thought that ‘better insulation for all’ is a top priority, so that all homes in need of an upgrade have the opportunity to make it happen. After all 20% of UK carbon emissions currently come from how we heat our homes and with there being clusters of low EPC rated homes in Westwood itself there’s a lot that could be done at the neighbourhood level. To make this happen we imagined that a local hub offering energy advice, initial home assessment and finance advice would be ideal. To lay the foundations for this a local DIY home energy efficiency and improvements training could get the ball rolling, particularly if led by local organisations like the Women’s Association. We noted that landlords would need to play a pivotal role in improving home energy efficiency if all of the homes most in need of upgrading could be reached.
After watching the morning presentation, thoughts also turned to community energy and how this could be possible in the neighbourhood. Their questions focused on the details of connections, space requirements, and investment return and how community energy could be achieved in the urban area. The group worked with a map of locations for solar renewable generation in their ward and identified potential roofs for community o
“We used to walk our kids to school but now we drop them off by car.
How can we hit the reverse?“
On the transport side of things we talked about how we might go about changing travel habits. One group member fondly remembered walking to school on foot when they were younger, but how over time a gradual shift towards the car had taken place. Whilst making travel easier on wet days (an important consideration by all means) this change has had knock-on consequences with road safety issues now playing on minds, particularly after a young boy was knocked down by a car earlier in the year. We reflected that if shifts in behaviour had happened within living memory it could happen again if the support was right. A host of measures including traffic calming, cheaper public transport and new clean travel options all had a part to play, with a clear role for the community group in popularising the new transport offer through education sessions and social cycling and walking events. Councillor Ruji mentioned that tying in the group’s activities with the GMCA Active Transport Plan for Westwood could be a good route for getting the neighbourhood group’s views included within the planning process.
“We need to do it all together and help each other. No-one can do it alone“
We finished off the day reflecting on the important role that the Millennium Centre could play as a hub of knowledge and support for the local community. Showcasing what the future could look like with solar panels installed on its roof could be a great way to start, showing what’s possible to the rest of Westwood. The idea of a new cooperative that brings together local people to share their knowledge and work together could be launched inviting in local people to learn and begin to work in collaboration to make the change needed.
With a lot of ground covered in today’s session Westwood has set the stage for future workshop discussions. We’ll come back to these topics in more detail over the coming 2 workshops, now inviting in example case studies from other communities in the UK and beyond. Follow us on social media to keep updated on the journey of our community workshop groups, where we’ll be sharing insights, key milestones and project updates over the coming weeks.