page title icon Crunch time: The closing workshops

Workshop 8-9 – Defining community-led pilots & strategic priorities

Reading time: 7 mins

After 9 workshops of mapping, sharing, debate and discussion, the Westwood and Sholver groups have settled on three community-led pilot projects and an outline of a new publication, designed to share their workshop journey and recommendations with the wider community.

A pilot project in this context is a way to practically try out a solution to a problem or an opportunity identified by the community. 

The first pilot project comes from the Westwood group, who hope to tackle the low energy efficiency performance of local homes and fuel poverty through a new energy advice service.

Our research found that 46.5% of homes in the Coldhurst area are rated at the lower end of Energy Performance Certification of D or below. Energy Performance Certification or EPC is the standard assessment for rating energy performance of homes. (You can read about this in workshop blog 2 here) The social impact of homes that are not very energy efficient is thatpeople struggle to be able to afford their heating bills, which is especially apparent now with energy prices rising. We can see this inlocal fuel poverty stats, which showed that two of the neighbourhood areas in Coldhurst hold the highest levels of fuel poverty in Oldham. Stories shared during the workshops confirmed this finding. Group members talked of how elderly relatives were living in cold and damp homes and how rising energy cost concerns were pushing more local families into precarity. With the Millennium Centre being a trusted local organisation, the group is in a good position to share basic energy advice gathered during the workshop with the surrounding community.  

The core idea is to establish a weekly energy advice cafe, where residents can drop in to discuss their energy issues, talk with an advisor about ways to save energy by stopping draughts or taking control of their heating, be sign-posted towards other support services and find out about grant funding support. With the recent increase in the cost of energy in April 2022, this intervention is all the more timely. Over the next six months, a group of local volunteeers will work with a mentor to trial a series of drop-in session models, from workshops to one-to-one support, before settling on the style that proves to work most effectively. They will map other local energy advice services to be included in the signposting service andcreate a publication to advertise their offer. To secure a legacy for the project, a focus on building the capacity of new Millenium Centre based energy advisors and a funding bid will also be a running theme.

Up in Sholver, tackling how to improve public transport emerged as the most immediate and pressing issue. The hilltop location of Sholver, situated 3 miles away from the centre, was often described in the workshops as feeling disconnected from the wider borough. With only one bus running to and from Oldham, group participants shared how choosing public transport often meant long and unpredictable journeys. A cycle or stroll down the hill may be fun for some, but a return journey would be out of the question for many. As a result locals rely on cars as their main form of transport. 

Now a growing group of volunteers is setting its sights on creating a reliable and more extensive bus service for the whole area, integrating and connecting bottom and top Sholver. Inspired by the Better Buses Manchester campaign, which successfully campaigned to bring local bus services in Greater Manchester back into public hands, the group are calling in expert advice and guidance to help them build their own strategy for improving the public transport offering. The group already imagines a big red bus rolling around Sholver, surveying local residents on the ups and downs of public transport, a bus stop takeover highlighting the need for improved waiting areas and a film to document local stories. By including the local transport coordinator, TFGM and local politicians in the process they hope to have made some headway on influencing local policy by the end of the six month pilot project.

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.

‘It will only work if lots of people are behind it’

With the pilot projects selected, conversations turned to how best to share the lessons learned with the wider community. The Westwood and Sholver groups have between 10 – 14 members with new knowledge of energy issues and how change could happen. How could they build on this base to skill up, involve more local people and increase their influence?

The idea of creating a new publication, summarising the groups journey and core solutions, really took off. These documents, known as ‘community-led energy plans’, would be a springboard for conversation with the local community. Urbed had already created a draft summary of the process. The group fed back that if the draft could be lifted with stories of local energy experiences, a shorter summary to support community engagement work, a clear set of demands for local stakeholders and a summary of the groups journey, then the document would be fit for purpose.

‘What we have done over the last months gives us a baseline to work with the community’ 

With an upbeat tempo and a sense of achievement of a job well done, this marks the end of the workshop process. 

The Oldham Energy Futures team are now tasked with reviewing the outcomes of the workshop programme for recommendations for individual, community, local authority, housing association and stakeholder actions. 

Visit the blog again soon to hear about how the community-led pilot projects are progressing.

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