Proper planning is essential for any community project – and it should start at the very beginning, as soon as the idea of doing anything first begins to unfold. For most people trying to set up a community-based energy saving scheme, the task can often seem almost overwhelming, but the good news is that with careful planning, the whole thing can be less intimidating than you might at first fear.
The first step in planning your project is to be very clear about what it is you are hoping to achieve. Are you looking to install a particular technology, for instance, such as a community wind-generator, do you have a single project in mind – perhaps making a zero-carbon village hall – or are you hoping to raise a general energy-awareness amongst your neighbours?
A whole range of factors can contribute to this decision, including the availability of local support and funding, the accessibility of equipment and, of course, the needs of the community itself.
Once you have a rough idea of what you are trying to do, it is important to decide on what your goals are going to be. The better you define your objectives at this point, the easier it will be in the long run to turn them into reality.
Another important aspect of planning your project is to identify the people who are likely to be involved. In the early stages, much of the personnel tend to be self-selecting and once the word gets out, if you’re lucky, a few like-minded souls will be beating a path to your door ready to join in.
However, it’s just as important to recognise that there are many more stakeholders in the overall project and think carefully about how you can involve and inform the whole of the community.
In addition, if your project is aimed at a particular group of people – the elderly or youth organisations, for example – it’s vital to consider how you can engage them from the outset, rather than having some vague notion of how everything will come together. When you’re planning a community project of this kind, it is never too soon to open up the lines of communication.
Time and Money
Time and money are two aspects of the project which can sometimes get a little overlooked amid all the enthusiasm, but giving them sufficient thought at the planning stage is critical to success. Setting some key dates can help to get a feel of how the project will develop – but try to keep them realistic and don’t overdo it in the early stages.
Agreed start and finish dates for the work, along with a few project milestones along the way will probably be sufficient for most community energy projects at least to start with; you can always add others later.
When it comes to planning your project budget, try to ensure that you cost out everything you are going to need. The main elements, such as the necessary materials, tools or equipment as well as any labour costs or consultancy fees that may be required, are fairly obvious but, depending on the type of project, there can often be a few expenses that get missed off the initial budget plans.
You may need to allow for hiring a workshop or storage space, printing costs or publicity materials, so it’s a good idea to give the whole budget issue some very careful thought and try to be as comprehensive as you can. In addition, most commercial projects feature a contingency fund – a pot to dip into if something unforeseen pushes up the overall price.
It’s sensible to plan to do the same thing with your community project – a figure of around 10 per cent of the total budget should normally see you alright, but it can often be well worth seeking proper professional advice, to be on the safe side.
Once you have got this far, you’ll obviously need to think about how to fund your project and find out if there are any permissions, building regulation approvals or other formalities to consider – so the next stop should be your local authority. As well as being able to advise you about any legalities, most are extremely supportive of community energy initiatives and may even be able to help you find some funding.
Although planning the start of your project is time consuming and can be at times frustrating, it really can save time later – and help avoid any unexpected surprises. One thing’s for sure – convincing your local council or possible sponsors that your project is going to be a winner will be a whole lot easier if you’re armed with a decent plan, rather than a few hastily scribbled ideas on the back of an old envelope!