What does community energy mean to you? How about community gardening?
Here at Energy Garden we envisage a cyclical development of green spaces producing food for local people, supported by renewable energy systems. This will all be owned, run and managed by the people that they serve.
As of Spring 2017, over 20 Energy Gardens have been completed or are well underway across the London Overground Network supplying fruit, vegetables and herbs for our communities to enjoy year round. This puts in place the beginnings of a green economy; in the coming months a share offer will be launched to raise money for co-ownership of renewable energy system, which will serve to financially maintain the gardens. Money raised will also contribute to other environmental and social returns such as lessons on renewable energy & horticulture in schools.
It’s hard to believe that this time a year ago we were recruiting for the first Energy Garden internship cohort. The programme, put together by Eric Schloss and Luke Jones of Repowering, was designed to offer young people from London an insight into the world of sustainability. The interns benefitted from the experience of an organisation that helped install the first community owned solar arrays on social housing. They were also paid for their time and gained AQA Certificates – a great CV booster.
Visits to rooftop solar systems in Brixton, Anaerobic Digesters at Kings Cross and community gardens across Hackney and Kensington, as well as hands-on sessions making and installing solar panels gave the interns a real grassroots experience grounded in the work that Londoners are doing in the green revolution.
Knowledge-building sessions hearing from experts such as Afsheen Rashid MBE, Co-founder of Repowering and Director of Community Energy England, and Tom Shakhli, manager of the Brixton Pound local currency movement, gave the interns a deeper understanding of social enterprise and what it means to put social aims at the heart of your business.
Recruitment involved 2 taster sessions introducing a pool of eager candidates to the project and the course. A group of 12 interns crystallized, from all corners of London, with varying levels of experience and interest. After a first session at community venue the Hive in Dalston, the young people really began to gel as a group, and good relationships formed, with 70% of participants planning to stay in touch.
Energy Garden places community energy and community gardening at its core, so it was essential to have the right mix of practical and theoretical learning. Understanding the community was highly important, and the interns were set two surveying activities as part of the AQA certificate modules. One involved engaging with the market traders in the world-famous Brixton Market to find out why they did (or didn’t) accept the Brixton Pound. The other activity challenged the interns to speak with commuters on the Overground Network to find out how they perceived the garden at Hampstead Heath, and whether they would be interested in getting involved. Everyone rose to the challenge; these activities can really boost young people’s sense of confidence and connection to others. This can be seen in the post-program evaluation survey results, with 100% of participants reporting an increased level of confidence in ability to engage their communities.
The last session took place at the Cordwainers Grow garden in Hackney, where the last days of Autumn meant peas, beans and greens could be planted. Emotional good byes were said, but the seeds had been sown.
72 AQA Certificates, 3 job references, a youtube video, 4 DIY solar panels and 60 Brixton Pounds later; 12 young people had completed the world’s first ever course on community energy and gardening.