page title icon A new Energy Advice service for Westwood

After months of hardwork, the Westwood pilot group are gearing up to launch their new energy advice service for Winter 2022.

The idea for setting up a local energy advice service came directly out of the workshop conversations. The process unveiled a pressing need to address the poor energy efficiency of local homes, high levels of fuel poverty and cost of living challenges that local people are experiencing. 

Knowing that the group’s home, the Millennium Centre, already held strong relationships with the local community and experience of running community engagement programmes, launching energy advice seemed a good way to build upon the group’s strengths and offer something of value back to the community. 

Although the Oldham Energy Futures workshops had given the group some space to develop their ideas, there was still some thinking to be done. 

The pilot project was set-up with the intention of answering the following questions: 

  1. What are the existing energy services on offer? What complementary services could the Millennium Centre bring?
  2. What types of services and advice would people want to access?
  3. What skills would the Millennium Centre need to have to provide reliable energy advice?

The pilot project focused on answering these questions with the aim of laying the foundations for an energy advice service ready to hit the ground running in Winter 2022.

Understanding the lay of the land

The group started with a local energy services mapping exercise. The exercise showed that in Oldham the Council is the main provider of energy advice via Warm Homes Oldham

After researching the Council’s current offer, the group began to see how the Millennium Centre’s skills could complement the existing services. In Westwood, English is often the second language spoken by local people. Whilst Warm Homes Oldham only provides support in English, an additional energy advice that could be delivered in local languages like Bengali, could be a useful addition to Oldham Council’s offer. 

It was also felt that trust and cultural barriers were preventing Westwood residents from accessing existing services. The Millennium Centre could play a pivotal role in building up a relationship with the local community, providing basic energy advice, before signposting them on to more in-depth services.

Building the service

South East London Community Energy’s Giovanna Speciale joined the group for a two day workshop, sharing her first hand experience of what’s involved in setting up an energy advice service. 

She gave a useful summary of options that are known to effective in communities with demographics similar to that of Westwood. Running outreach workshops, regular energy cafe drop in sessions, champion programmes, phone line support and home visits all had their advantages and drawbacks. Knowing a little more about the potential impact and resources needed to run each activity, the pilot group settled on the idea of running a three tier service consisting of local workshops and events, energy cafe drop-in sessions and home visits. 

Trialling workshops and events

‘`We knew there was a need, now we know there is a want’

Ibrahim Hoque (Westwood Group member)

As a way of trialling workshops and events, the group asked Carbon Coop to run a series of DIY themed energy workshops, including ‘getting started with energy saving basics’, ‘optimising your heat controls’ and ‘DIY draught proofing’. Each of these workshops were designed to give local people a series of easy to implement energy and money saving actions. The pilot group also saw an opportunity to link the end of the project celebration event to energy efficiency, through a series of stalls dedicated to existing energy advice support. 

To make sure that the workshops and events reached the people that need it most, the group ran a door-knocking campaign in priority areas of the neighbourhood. Each of the door knockers were trained in Groundwork’s Frontline Worker Energy Advice training to give them some background knowledge, before taking to the streets.

The result was some very lively and well attended events. Over 200 people came to the celebration event and between 15-25 of the workshop’s seats were taken at each session. This gave the group a real sense of the local appetite for accessing energy advice via the Millennium Centre, building their confidence in their original ideas.

Skilling up

For the energy cafe and home visits services to take shape, the group needed to train up staff and volunteers as energy advisors. The NEA’s level 3 Energy Awareness is known as the industry standard for specialists in the field. The pilot group decided that they would like to have at least 6 trained advisors on hand at the Millennium Centre. 

The race was on to find appropriate funding to cover the costs of putting staff and volunteers through the course. One of Oldham Energy Futures stakeholders, a local housing organisation, was keen to support seeing the Millennium Centre’s new service as a valuable resource for their residents. They were happy to cover the cost of six places. On booking the course through the NEA, the group were offered an additional 4 places to be funded by the NEA. 

A total of 10 staff and volunteers are now in the process of completing the course. To polish the skills the new advisors will have a few final sessions shadowing SELCE’s energy advisors, to make sure that they are ready to start their new roles.

Hopes for the future

With the volunteers trained, the Millennium Centre are working towards the launch of their first advisors-led energy cafe session in Winter 2022. To begin with the service will be run on a volunteer basis. In the future the group will be setting their sites on a new fundraising strategy to make the service more sustainable in the long term.

Follow their progress on the Millennium Centre’s facebook page.

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