Zero Carbon Britain: Stories for Change – part 2

Home » Zero Carbon Britain: Stories for Change – part 2

How three people are shaping a more sustainable world, in their own words…

Stories are powerful – they can help us transcend the limits of our worldview and rehearse new ways of being, helping us make sense of our lives. Stories can help us envisage, and then build and inhabit a zero carbon future.

The Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain research shows that the barriers to delivering our commitments to the UN Paris Climate Agreement arise not because we lack any tools or any technology – they are actually social, economic and political.

CAT’s latest report Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen explores ways we can overcome the social, economic and political barriers and so enable a shift to zero carbon. Whilst writing the report, the team interviewed six sustainability pioneers about their work, and asked them how they are breaking through barriers to change.

Here is the second set of stories we uncovered. You’ll find the first set here.

Social inclusion in action – Flower Pod

Flower Pod is a horticultural-based service for adults with learning disabilities offering learning and recreational activities. It is part of Reach, which is the new name for the Southwell Care Project in Nottinghamshire. The learning and recreational activities focus on growing beautiful cut flowers that are sold to local domestic and businesses markets to generate an income. Flower Pod offers consumers the opportunity to buy locally produced flowers with a low carbon footprint whilst supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Anna Joyce Project Manager, Flower Pod explains….

“Most people don’t appreciate that the flowers they buy from a florist aren’t grown in this country, they need to be told. You can do that through flowers. They sit in a vase in your house, reminding you. They’ll sit there for a week. It’s got more chance of getting through.

I married an architect and he is involved in a lot of environmental, sustainable buildings. I’m also from a background of growing, horticulture, botany, landscape; so, via osmosis it’s been getting under my skin. 

Flowers are a great link, from the clients and volunteers growing them, to giving them out at the other end, perhaps to a bride. It’s made all the more serious because they know they’ve been grown by people with learning disabilities and they love that feeling, knowing they’ve contributed something more than just buying a bunch of flowers. Flowers resonate deeply with people – it might mean something like a song would or a piece of music. The people we support may never have a chance to nurture and look after a child. I think there’s an innate need in all of us to do that, and flowers satisfy that to some degree.

We have clients with learning disabilities and they’re not aware they’re interested in seeds and plants. But they’ve got their names on some of the seeds and the trays of cuttings, and as they come weekly they can see them growing, and I think it’s almost an animal instinct it satisfies. We have lots of volunteers who think they want to help us with gardening, but within hours of them coming, the barrier is broken down between them and the clients, and they end up coming for the clients rather than the flowers.

It’s social inclusion, mixing people up, forcing the issue somehow. I think it leads to a much better community, a much better society that will go forward as one voice in terms of creating zero carbon Britain. It’s no good one section of society fighting for one cause. We’re all together and we can all believe in one another and contribute.”


Community power – The Green Valleys Community Interest Company & TGV Hydro

The Green Valleys Community Interest Company (CIC) was set-up by community members in and around the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2009. They aim to inspire and support communities to work together to reduce carbon emissions, generate income and deliver social and environmental benefits. TGV Hydro is owned by The Green Valleys CIC and offers a full design, permissions and construction service for small-scale hydroelectric systems. They make micro-hydropower a practical reality for landowners and community groups across Wales.

Chris Blake Founding director explains:

“You can argue that perhaps energy is the defining commodity of the last 200 years. Where we get it from, who owns it, how it’s distributed and how it’s used is crucial to our social structure and civilization. Having it local, municipal, socially owned, as it has been in the past, could be very liberating. 

Chris Blake sitting by the entry point to the Abercrave Farm 15kW hydro power plant on the Brecon Beacons, Wales.

We’ve designed and built about 40 micro-hydro schemes across Wales, about a third of which are community owned. The projects raise awareness about renewable energy, together with energy saving attitudes and initiatives. They can build community cohesion, they don’t always, but they can.

When Feed-in Tariffs were generous, a project could generate green energy and create a community fund. That financial incentive has been cut substantially and all but the very best schemes on the most attractive sites don’t really work anymore, so the industry is grinding to a halt. We don’t have a very clear energy strategy in the UK. We certainly don’t have one that works in favour of either renewables or distribution generation. The Conservatives took up a very strong anti-on shore wind and renewables stance, which they implemented. They’ve got a pretty clear policy towards nuclear and gas which never quite gets stated, because it’s not that popular. But the consequence therein is the reduction of support for all renewables. Half of the UK’s 35,000 employees in the solar industry have been made redundant.

To go from centralised carbon-burning generation to decentralised renewable generation requires a substantial multi-decade investment in changes in the distribution grid. You could argue economically that’s one of the reasons to stick with centralised generation, but if you’re generating electricity next to where you’re using it, it’s more of a robust system. I’m currently working on a project to get more money for the local electricity we generate. At the moment, electricity from renewable generation can gain between 4 and 5p per unit. 4 years ago, micro-hydro schemes were getting 20p for generation tariff in addition. That’s been cut to 8p and will go to zero effectively. Smaller and distributed schemes are not economic at that level of support. So if they can’t get more generating tariff, can you get more for export? Can you directly sell that electricity to other people locally? Can you get 7-8-10p a unit?

While that may be possible, it’s complicated. It’s taking a lot of effort and negotiation and determination. Offgem regulation and distribution grid charging mechanisms are the key issues. The way the market was privatised in the early nineties has put an emphasis on short-term savings. It could be argued it has kept electricity bills cheap, but it’s preventing strategic solutions from being realised. Electricity supply is basically multinational, often foreign owned. Anybody who buys electricity – that money is leaving the community, and leaving the country in most cases. Under the local energy supply models that we’re working on, half the electricity can be supplied locally. You don’t have to have that many people using the system to increase the amount of money in the local economy.

In areas of rural Wales where I’m based, areas of enormous deprivation: very low average incomes, poor services, fuel poverty – if we can keep local services running and operating, you create a better community for everybody.”

A way into society – Repowering London 

Repowering London is a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in co-producing community energy programmes with community groups and local authorities. They support communities to deliver, own and manage renewable energy projects that provide benefits to the citizens that surround them. So far, Repowering London has installed 236 kWp1 of community owned renewable energy, with an approximate saving of 55 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.

Agamemnon Otero, Chief Executive Officer explains…

“Creating a co-operative empowers people to have a say, doing it with some device like solar panels, or a wind turbine, or a waste plant makes sense to them to invest in. Include them in the ownership, and the practical elements of how to build it, and they have a more profound understanding of how it works.  Our training offers a forty-week, London living wage programme that goes through how money works: finance, the IT, technical, legal, marketing, PR elements of setting up and owning a renewable energy co-operative, and that’s for 14 to 24 year olds. 

When you say finance, you’re providing understanding around “How does money work in my community?” Technical, you’re saying: “What would it look like to have solar panels on my roof? How does electricity work in my house?” When you say legal, you’re asking: “What gives me the right to put it on my roof and how am I protected so I don’t lose it?” Marketing is: “What will be the representation of our community? Let’s draw it, let’s vote on it.” And finally, “How are we going to tell that story? Are we going to knock on doors? Are we going to holler from the rooftop?” By asking those questions, you’re saying: “Your voice means something, your actions have an impact”. At the end, we help them with soft skills and CVs, and placing them in work.  For the adults on the same programme there’ll be a mentoring programme, which is unpaid, and they become directors or supporters and decide where the money goes, and have a real sense of ownership. Then there’s a programme for out of work engineers. So that’s the offer to the people and it follows a pedagogy. The final stage is that they go on the roof and install the panels.  You engage people and provide what they want – not what you think they want.

People want to be warm, to be safe, they want to invest in their family and friends and have something to believe in that provides opportunity and in the end well-being, because they don’t want a way out of their estate, they want a way into society.” 


To find out more about how we can break down barriers to change, and make the shift to zero carbon happen, download the full Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen report here.