With help from our Business Support for Co-ops programme, South East London Community Energy (Selce) created a strong foundation on which to take their organisation from strength to strength.
South East London Community Energy (Selce) was set up in 2014 when a group of people in Greenwich and Lewisham decided to take action on climate change. Since then, they have installed community-owned solar panels on a total of 11 schools, community buildings, churches and even a local hotel.
In recent years, Selce has also been supporting local communities experiencing fuel poverty by providing energy advice, energy debt management, advocacy and training. It has also expanded its geographical reach to other south-east London boroughs.
“We started out more focused on solar but when we organised consultations with the local community, fuel poverty was flagged up very strongly,” said Selce founder and Chair Camilla Berens. “More recently, we’ve expanded into other areas including retrofit, LED installation and helping local businesses to go green.”
So with this additional activity and diversification, the Selce board decided it was time to take stock and re-think their strategy.
“The team had grown, the board had changed, so we needed to have a more comprehensive overview of where we are at and where we were going,” Camilla continued.
Board Secretary Anna Fairtlough said: “You have so many challenges and opportunities coming at you from different directions within the day-to-day of work, so it can be difficult to create the space for bigger picture reflection. That’s what we wanted to achieve when applying for support.
“We needed someone to parachute in and give us a 360-degree view of our organisation and advise how to consolidate the way we work, so we can operate more effectively.”
The team were awarded a package of consultancy from co-op development expert Adrian Ashton.
“Adrian was great. He has a light touch and was able to drill into things deeply,” said Camilla.
“He sliced everything up into segments. We were struggling with the bigger picture, so he suggested we break it up, have little groups talking to each other about key issues and use Google docs to add to that.”
Camilla added: “He also had a lovely sense of humour which was really helpful during times when the discussions became quite tense. He even gave us a special online workshop on ‘Getting to grips with annual accounts’ which ended with a group groove to Talking Heads!”
Thanks to Adrian’s guidance and advice, the team has produced a blueprint for their organisation going forward. “The process of doing this made us see what’s not right. It helped us to come up with a document that has been useful in various ways since,” said Anna.
“We are using it to focus our agenda planning and looking at the strategic areas we are concentrating on.”
In her role as Board Secretary, Anna has now built the key strategic goals from the document into each agenda’s discussion. “We can always refer back to those goals as a guiding point. It’s easy to go off at a tangent and forget the bigger picture, so it’s helpful not to have that drift.”
The board now has renewed focus on Selce’s key strategies: increasing local renewable energy generation; improving governance and processes; honing communications; expanding its fuel poverty support and developing the team.
Anna added: “Adrian was really patient with us. In board meetings and special meetings, he helped us in consulting with our wider membership and he was one of the facilitators helping with our AGM.
“It was really useful to have somebody who was flexible and patient and who understood the pressures we were under.
“He mucked in and wrote up the notes at our sessions. It wasn’t above him. I really valued that about him. It’s that flexibility that’s important for a small, busy organisation with voluntary board members who do so many other things.
“The help of a presence that was knowledgeable, supportive, non-judgemental and without whizz bang gimmicks helped us gently think about bigger issues and how to manage them.
“Thanks to this support, we now have a stronger base on which to continue our expansion.”