We have worked closely with Éva Goudouneix on a recent share offer for North Kensington Community Energy and she's well on her way to becoming a full licensed Community Shares Practitioner. Knowing her passion and hard work in this area, we asked Éva to share her story with us...
I'm Eva and I'm the Community Development Manager at Repowering London. I recently started the Community Shares Practitioner Training Programme and worked with North Kensington Community Energy on their share offer.
During work experience as a front-line worker in an energy company, it was a shock for me to see the number of people struggling to pay their energy bills.
I think the energy transition should benefit everyone, especially those struggling to make ends meet. The only way to make this happen, in my opinion, is to put back energy in the hands of people and communities.
That’s exactly what Repowering London aims to do – empowering communities by helping them develop their own clean energy co-ops. This is why I’m so driven and motivated by Repowering’s mission - and so happy to be part of their amazing team as a community engagement officer.
Here I want to talk about my experience working with North Kensington Community Energy (NKCE) to successfully raise £103,000 through their second community share offer and securing the Community Shares Standard Mark.
Why a community share offer?
The purpose of the share offer was to finance the purchase and installation of 138 kW of solar panels on the Westway Sports Centre in London. The power generated by the solar panels would be sold back to the Westway Sports Centre through a Power Purchase Agreement. This would enable the centre to save money on their bills, tackle climate change at a local level and generate a community benefit fund for local causes.
We actually purchased and installed the solar panels before even launching our community share offer! The costs were covered by a loan from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. This allowed us to meet the Feed-In-Tariff deadline, de-risk the investment project for the community, and give us time to plan our fundraising.
Challenges and community engagement
The obvious challenge was to fundraise in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis! Moreover, Kensington and Chelsea suffer from a high degree of income inequality and lack community cohesion. North Kensington has above average poverty rates, child poverty, and receipt of out-of-work benefits.
While Repowering’s fundraising campaigns in Lambeth and Hackney attracted around 85% of locally based investors, NKCE’s first share offer attracted only 32% of investors from the borough, with a median investment of £250. It was very important that we increased our percentage of local investors, bringing the diversity of North Kensington into the energy co-op.
To revive volunteer groups and raise community awareness about NKCE we started extensively promote our £1-membership offer. We recruited a new director based in North Kensington and expanded our group of local volunteers. Our volunteers organised a Greener Living Day in a local community centre, which was a great success and attracted more than 100 attendees from a diverse audience - enabling us to double subscribers to our mailing list.
The volunteer group grew significantly. While it was not easy to organise online, we made sure to create a warm and energising atmosphere and to give everyone a clear role, which led to a high volunteer retention rate. Most of the volunteers who started in the summer of 2020 are still very active in the group today.
Developing a fundraising strategy
I supported the group to develop a fundraising strategy that was both online and locally focus – two objectives not necessarily easy to align! We lowered our minimum investment amount from £250 to £100 (and £50 for residents under 25 or on benefits). We targeted local residents and communities who didn’t usually engage in community energy projects, reaching out to community organisations beyond those with an environmental focus, such as local churches. We also promoted the share offer through local radio and newspapers, and developed creative online campaigns.
Community energy projects can appear complex and using technical terms or jargon can put people off. We developed clear and simple key messages and used them consistently throughout the whole campaign, identifying three main reasons for people to invest: Tackle climate change, Support local causes, Make money.
The Community Shares Standard Mark
The Community Shares Standard Mark enabled the identification of shortcomings in the share offer – but it was a challenge to identify the root causes and underlying issues. It made me appreciate the value of having the Standard Mark assessment completed by an external practitioner outside of the training route.
The share offer documentation had two major shortcomings. We had financial forecasts for the Westway Sports Centre project, but not for the society as a whole. NKCE had already completed a share offer and we needed to produce consolidated forecasts. This meant clearly defining the terms and conditions of our share offers and the links between them – would we have one or two classes of shares? What would be our withdrawal policy? It also meant clarifying our future ambitions. How many projects did we intend to start in the coming years, if any?
NKCE was the first Repowering co-op to start a second project – and this was the first Repowering share offer using the Standard Mark framework, so these matters were new to us. Moreover, the volunteer group didn’t have yet a clear vision of the future of the society.
Working through the challenges
I had several in-depth conversations with the Repowering team and with the NKCE group to brainstorm options. We agreed it was best to have one class of shares for all our members. Consequently, I worked on building a financial model where all our members would get the same return on investment and withdrawal terms. I also presented a motion at the AGM to existing members, which was passed unanimously.
We closed our community share offer after three months and raised £87,000 from the community – despite lockdown restrictions! With the addition of Booster match-funding, we reached our target of £103,000 and could pay back our Esmée Fairbairn Foundation loan.
Our percentage of local investors increased from 32% to 40%, with a median investment of £300. We grew our membership, from 144 to 222 investors.
In hindsight, I think we could have reached a higher percentage by starting our awareness raising campaign earlier and utilising more innovative methods with a wider range of community organisations. Our initial strategy also involved hanging out flyers, posters and banners in North Kensington, but we weren’t able to do so because of the lockdown. In future, to become a more diverse and inclusive energy co-op we need to further improve our communications.
I am very grateful to have worked on this share offer as a trainee practitioner with the support of Co-operatives UK’s Community Shares Unit. It was a steep learning curve for me as I was new to the community shares world. The process of writing the share offer documentation was extremely insightful, not only for myself but also for the NKCE group and for my colleagues at Repowering.
I felt more confident answering difficult questions from potential investors and existing NKCE members. It was also amazing to meet other practitioners and discover how diverse this sector is, and it really increased my interest in the co-operative world.
What would I say to anyone considering the programme? Quite simply, go for it! There’s so much to learn and it’s such an exciting field!
If you’re new to the co-op world like I am, you will really enjoy meeting experienced and knowledgeable practitioners who have a lot to share. And if you’re currently developing or supporting a co-op, the training will be even more helpful and applicable.