In SMV’s Annual Review of 2022 we reported on the work being done by Ambition Lawrence Weston (ALW), a community-led development trust in this North Bristol ward.
Following ALW’s successful campaign to raise £5m towards their own wind turbine, the project was completed in May 2023.
We caught up with ALW’s Development Manager, Mark Pepper (above centre), to find out how the past year has gone, and what the future holds.
The wind turbine in numbers:
The turbine has been operating since May. What was it like bringing the project to completion?
This project was a huge effort involving many people and organisations all of whom played critical parts, including SMV. We had no idea when we started what we had taken on! So, when the turbine finally started to run, we had a big celebration… we even had one of the founding members dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel to cut the ribbon! It was a very proud moment for us all.
We are seeing income being generated by the turbine already, but the majority of that is going to clearing the debts of the funding we raised. We don’t expect to see substantial income until 2025, at which point we are confident that the turbine will generate £100k annually to support the ward.
Has anything changed since your initial projections for the turbine?
Yes, a lot has changed. The financial model was created two years ago, and since then, the cost of everything has risen. The hike in energy prices over the last 18 months has had both good and bad impacts on what we’re doing. We negotiated a good power purchase agreement (PPA) for our renewable energy with Bristol-based OVO, who provide PPAs for subsidy free renewable generators at above market rate. They have been a great partner, and working with them, through the changing circumstances, has definitely impacted the project’s financial viability in a positive way.
Unfortunately, that does not translate into an increase in funds for the community because, at the same time, there was substantial inflation in our costs. The Bank of England Base Rate, which determines the cost of our borrowing, rose from 0.25% when the project started to 5.25% now. For a project that is 100% debt-funded, that is a huge hit.
But at the same time, increased energy prices are affecting our residents who are suffering from higher bills. It is now our priority to explore ways in which we can support the residents through the turbine, and we are working with OVO with this in mind.
You have received a lot of positive press about the turbine. Has it opened any new doors for Lawrence Weston?
There’s been lots of media attention – much more than we expected – which reminds us that what we have done is really quite an achievement. It has certainly raised our profile. It’s good to get interest in what we’re doing to promote climate awareness and interest in renewable energy, but equally it can be disruptive as it takes me away from my day job. I have to make a judgement on whether I can justify using my time and capacity to respond to the outside interest, if it stops me doing the work that directly benefits the residents.
We have always had links with local trusts similar to ours, and now we are specifically building these links because of the wind turbine and our climate action plan. We are often contacted for advice about how other areas in Bristol can do the same; not just the turbine but also community and neighbourhood development plans, even smaller projects like the ‘Men in Sheds’ group.
So, what’s next? Would you consider building another turbine?
The residents’ views ultimately drive our decision-making and our way forward. They charged us to provide a wind turbine to help deliver the services that they said they wanted in the community plan, so that is now starting to happen.
We consider all the new infrastructure bids that come in, and there is talk, now that the dust has settled, that the board of Ambition Community Energy (ACE), the community interest company set up to build and operate the turbine, are considering a second turbine. It would be a waste not to use all the knowledge, experience and contacts that we have built up, and now that we have the income from the turbine coming in, we may be able to finance it ourselves. Two of ACE’s founding members, Dave Tudgey and Charles Gamble, have secured WECA funding to deliver ten turbine sites in the southwest region through their new company Community Power Solutions, so we could also benefit from that.
That said, we’ve got to be wary of going off on a tangent, chasing funding for the sake of funding.
We are starting our new Community Plan consultation, where we will be asking if anything has changed amongst the residents’ wishes since the last one, and if there is an appetite for more developments or do we just concentrate on our service delivery, such as running our community hub, supporting the residents in the new housing developments, making the BMX track and other leisure facilities nicer places to be, supporting our transport projects, responding to the cost-of-living crisis and any future crises that might come up.
So what else is ALW doing?
Our housing development is due to start building in August – 36 new houses and six flats that have been resident-driven and design-led. The process from the start has been to empower local people to have their say on how they want their housing to be and how they want to interact with neighbours. The housing will be solely for people who already live in Lawrence Weston, some will be for rent, and some will be shared equity.
We are also focusing on our wellbeing activities programme, particularly for the most vulnerable residents. These include outdoor trips for families who don’t have much chance to get away, our ‘Grow, cook and eat’ project to teach cooking skills and healthy eating habits, and lots of biodiversity projects that are part of our climate action plan. We have been working with an ecologist and horticulturist to increase wildlife in the area and set up vegetable patches all over the estate. We have also supported the development of a new allotment.
Vegetable patches have been set up all over the estate
It all feeds into our approach to multi-layered benefits – making life a bit easier and a bit more affordable, as well as building a sense of community and counteracting isolation.
The cost-of-living crisis hit some residents really hard. We were grateful for the financial support from SMV – it helped us to respond where we could make a real impact: we sourced low energy use appliances, like slow cookers and LED lightbulbs, and we topped up pre-payment meters for the most vulnerable. We also used the fund to reach more residents, helping them to be more conscious about how they use energy. It’s only scratching the surface but if we can help a family save £20 on their energy bill then that’s £20, they can spend elsewhere.
The cost-of-living crisis has been tough on lots of families, but if we can give them support through the projects we’re working on, and at the same time encourage a greater sense of hope and pride in the area, then we are doing our job right.