Workshop 7: Imagining Westwood
Reading time: 7 mins
In the seventh workshop, the Westwood group’s ideas for community-led pilot projects begin to solidify. Plans to improve neighbourhood safety through a travel rethink, unlocking local rooftops as a site for generating solar power and energy efficiency awareness campaigns are beginning to take shape. The importance of the Millennium Community Centre grows as a place that can showcase low carbon living and empower others to follow in their footsteps.
At the end of the diagnosis phase, the Westwood group reflected on what they had learned about the strengths and pitfalls of the neighbourhood’s energy and identified three priorities for change:
- Improve clean transport options and facilities.
- Take steps to improve the lowest energy performing homes, especially those struggling to cover their costs.
- Make the Millennium Center an example of what a low carbon future could look like, symbolised by a rooftop solar system.
But there were still many questions left to answer. What steps would be needed to turn these seedling ideas into complete projects? Who would need to be involved in making it happen? And which actions could the Westwood group champion themselves?
We began the day by reflecting on the last session, where the group worked with energy efficiency and transport experts to delve deeper.
Team energy efficiency shared their vision for a new campaign. They would start by organising energy advice training for staff and volunteers, building up the local knowledge of energy efficiency improvement basics. Through DIY style training, community members would learn how to assess and tackle draughts, mould, damp and ventilation issues and share their knowledge with others. Community engagement activities with the local schools and community centre would be the first port of call for building up local interest. And there was discussion around supporting residents in doing DIY improvements to their homes by working with local handymen (people!) and creating a tool library (just like a book library, but with tools). Those with a keen eye for design mused over how energy efficiency could become something beautiful and desirable. After all, issues around the home are close to the heart. There’s a need to slowly build up relationships and trust before making any radical suggestions. A few supportive partners have already been identified in Warm Homes Oldham and Action Together. Promoting the soon to close Green Homes Grant could also be an early activity. Once the campaign starts to build up speed, signposting to already established organisations like Carbon Coop could allow people to do the more in-depth energy efficiency work needed for cutting carbon out of the home
‘How can we make it beautiful?’
Team transport shared two ideas. The first focused on setting up a bike hub, where local people could trial and borrow bikes fitting their needs. The hub will be located within the Westwood area, providing training and social activities and two-seater bikes and tricycles to make the scheme widely accessible. The second was to improve the cycle and walking paths in Westwood to make short journeys on foot easier. For the people in Bury Park, an improved route to cross the dual carriage-way would make it much easier to access the local shops. Reducing the dual carriage-way speed would also help make the journey feel safer. Traffic calming measures on Victoria and Gosforth Street could help to assuage parent concerns about walking their children to school down a busy road. With four nurseries and a school on the street, congestion and air pollution cause health and safety problems around the school gates. If cars were prevented from entering during the school pick up times, parents could walk safely to and from school. All of these suggestions could be brought together around a new circular route, showing how you could make your way around Westwood on foot, with clear signage and maps to guide you.
Later in the afternoon, the group presented their ideas to James and John, two transport planners from Arup working on an Active Transport Plan for Chadderton North & Westwood. Over the past ten years, there has been an increase in cars travelling down residential streets, especially around Victoria Street and Garforth Street. The consequences of this are felt within the heart of the neighbourhood. Fewer children play out in the street and can walk easily to schools such as Burnley Brow Community School and Bear Trees Primary School; more people travel by car due to road safety concerns, and communities have become disconnected. The GMCA commissioned Arup to look into the issue and develop a package of improvement measures up to £250,000.
Dan shared two core principles that Arup uses as a launchpad for talking about active travel. Start by creating an encouraging environment for short journeys; safety, green space and atmosphere all matter. They had lots of ideas for how this could work in practice. The streets could feel safer by limiting when cars can access a road. Introducing modal filters that only allow buses, bicycles and pedestrians to pass could prioritise clean transport. Cycle storage, street lighting or improved seating could encourage more people to try something new and enhance their well-being. Secondly, it’s crucial to encourage people to engage with the design process. This is something that Arup was keen to bring to Westwood but had struggled to tap into the local community’s knowledge just yet. They wanted to hear more about what the Westwood Energy Futures group had to say.
‘Car is the only way to go because it’s so much easier. If there were a cycling path, I would use it’
Our group were not shy to share their reflections. The ideas for the walking and cycling circular from the morning chimed with some of Arup’s thinking for better cycling paths between Chadderton and Coldhurst, a new footpath and improved lighting. Everyone agreed that tackling the traffic caused by the Armacell Factory was necessary. When Dan mentioned a proposal for easing traffic around one of the schools mentioned above, one of the group members raised their hands to let them know that she was a resident and school governor. As a small breakaway group, they discussed a plan for taking this idea sensitively, considering the needs of the kids, residents, parents and school alike.
‘Westwood’s roofs have value. Sooner or later, someone will realise that. What we want to do is get the value now and use it for the good of the community’
We also spent some time looking at the role of the Millenium Center as a driving force for a new community-owned solar. Andy Hunt from Oldham Council and a community energy enthusiast shared how solar initiatives can be a fantastic way of capturing the hidden value of roofs. As a home for solar panels, the roof could capture energy from the sun and sold to the building residents or network. Once all costs are accounted for, what’s leftover could become a community fund dedicated to addressing local issues.
To make community-owned solar happen in Westwood, Andy gave the group a choice; either to go ahead and set up a new organisation or partner with an existing energy coop, like Oldham Community Power. Either route could allow the group to investigate and build solar energy on the roof of the Millenium Center and across the neighbourhood. Perhaps there could be an option of developing a community benefit fund with Oldham Community Power in exchange for the group’s knowledge and connections.
‘This group has hyper-local knowledge and connections, which is what usually makes the difference between something happen or not.’
Carbon Coop engineer Ben Aylott stressed the importance of this connection. Community energy often struggles to find building owners willing to participate in their schemes. Local knowledge of people and place is the only way to find them. It’s time-intensive for someone outside of the community to gain this depth of knowledge, but it’s second nature to an organisation as embedded as the Millenium Center.
The importance of local knowledge became apparent when Laura, another Carbon Coop staff member, shared a map highlighting the most profitable rooftops for solar. At an earlier workshop, the group had surveyed the map to find the top 10 opportunities. Looking out sites that could offer profit to go towards a community fund, where the group already knew the building owner and felt that they were likely to be supportive, they developed a shortlist:
- Central Mosque
- Millennium Center
- Mosque school
- Audi Car Garage
- All of the academies
- Group member rental properties
- Firwood Church
- Quebec Factory
- Royal Oldham Hospital
Getting the technical, financial and day to day running of a solar scheme right is also essential. If the group chose to continue looking at solar, they would need to contact building owners and discuss their interests before moving through to a feasibility study. The group would then develop a business model to weigh-up costs and income generation. Ben gave a helpful summary of the cost’s and potential incomes to consider.
Solar installation costs
- Feasibility study
- Application costs
- Planning & design
- Fundraising costs
- Installation costs
- Equipment (panels, batteries etc.)
- Replacement of panels
- National grid connection cost
- Administrative costs
- Dividends (if using a community share offer)
- Selling energy to the building owner
- Selling power to the national grid
- Government incentives
The group covered a lot of ground in today’s session. In a week, we’ll be back for our final session of the year. We will reflect on all of the emerging pilot project proposals and decide which ones to work on with Carbon Coop’s support. The group may choose to take forward a few of the projects independently. The group will share their complete set of ideas through a Local Energy Action Plan or LEAP, a vision for the future of Westwood’s energy, ready for stakeholders and citizens to pick up.
Head back to the blog in a week to see which project the group decides to focus on and our plans for the final Oldham Energy Futures workshop in early January.