Green Valleys show the way to Mass Localism

Today’s Mass Localism event at NESTA offered a rich menu over breakfast: principles by which government could stimulate and support communities to take the lead in addressing major social changes; an inspirational story from a winner of their Big Green Challenge; and some hints on what a Tory government might do in this field.
The event launched a pamphlet which took lessons from the Big Green Challenge, through which hundreds of local groups were in competition for £1 million to support projects reducing carbon emissions. The booklet says:

Policymakers increasingly recognise that many of the solutions to major social challenges – from tackling climate change to improving public health – need to be much more local. Local solutions are frequently very effective, as they reflect the needs of specific communities and engage citizens in taking action. And they are often cost-effective, since they provide a conduit for the resources of citizens, charities or social enterprises to complement those of the state. Given the growing pressure on government finances, these are important benefits.

But localism presents a dilemma. Government has traditionally found it difficult to support genuine local solutions while achieving national impact and scale.

In order to scale up local solutions, the pamphlet, by Laura Bunt and Michael Harris, proposes:

  • Establish and promote a clear, measurable outcome
  • Presume a community capacity to innovate
  • In the early stages, challenge and advice is more valuable than cash
  • Identify existing barriers to participation and then remove them
  • Don’t reward activity, reward outcomes

The keynote speaker was Nick Hurd, shadow Minister for Charities, Social Enterprise and Volunteering. In 2006 he successfully took through Parliament a Private Members Bill, the Sustainable Communities Act, which enables local people to decide what they think needs to be done to promote the sustainability of their area, and put this to government through their local authorities. Local spending reports provide more accountability.

Nick spoke enthusiastically about the potentially for supporting local action, highlighted statements by David Cameron, and promised more announcements shortly. He acknowledged that putting more emphasis on local, rather than central, determination, meant there would be some failure. It was a risk … but there was more risk in just going with the status quo. He gladly agreed to an interview, as you’ll see above.

I then talked to Grenville Ham, whose Green Valleys project in the Brecon Beacons national park won £300,000 in the Challenge. Here’s how they pitched to NESTA:

The Green Valleys is aiming to make the Brecon Beacons region a net exporter of energy, by developing Community renewable energy schemes and supporting communities to reduce their carbon emissions. All revenue from community-owned installations will be reinvested in community-based carbon reduction projects such as electric bike sharing or community woodlands that provide managed wood fuel.

One forthcoming community-owned hydro electric installation will generate 82 per cent of the electricity needed by its community. Combined with five privately-owned installations (that The Green Valleys are also developing), it will reduce the community’s carbon footprint by 137 per cent.

It’s a very impressive project … and it all started through a conversation in a pub. Grenville explains their journey over two years.

Nick Hurd MP
Sustainable Communities Act
Download the Mass Localism pamphlet
Big Green Challenge Winners
The Green Valleys Project

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