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As M&S Energy Operations Manager, it’s been so great to be involved for the second year in a row with the M&S Energy Community Energy Fund, which launched this summer.  It’s been a tough job to decide, but we have just announced the 26 winners for this year. However, it's the seven winners selected by the judges that I want to tell you more about in this blog.

We had up to £350,000 worth of grants available for community groups to install renewable technologies or energy efficiency measures, to make their organisation more sustainable with carbon and financial savings. Applications opened in May 2016 and 199 applications were submitted from all sorts of community groups, from schools to community pubs to remote hydro schemes.

The votes opened on 1 September 2016 and we were delighted by how much support the community groups were shown. Votes and crowdfunding donations kept rolling in and by the voting deadline on 10 October 2016, they clocked in at a whopping 78,837 votes and £28,798 in donations.

The 19 projects that topped the leader board in each M&S region were awarded with grants for their community energy project. We kept a close eye on other projects that went the extra mile (but unfortunately didn’t get the votes to win) and those were presented to the judging panel that met on 21 October 2016.

Joining me on the judging panel were Sir Ed Davey (Chairman of Mongoose Energy & Former Secretary of State for DECC), Giles Bristow (Director at Forum for the Future), Morven Smith (Head of Community Investment at SSE), and Rob Love (Chairman at Crowdfunder UK). Twenty projects were up for nomination, with seven judges’ awards available.

Amery Hill School showed how far you can go with innovation, not just with technology but with the great creative skills used to create their video. The students sang along to The Proclaimers – to walk 100 miles on the newly proposed kinetic tiles to pave their corridor and power the school. A sure winner for the judges and now they will be able to make energy and cost savings that can be ploughed back into the school. A great way to get the whole school to feel more connected to energy generation.

For Enham Trust, the judges really liked that a different type of technology had been proposed - not many bid to install CHP. But most importantly, the judges thought the charity provided a much needed service for the community, having already survived 100 years and we liked their focus on looking to alleviate fuel poverty for a group often struggling with energy expenses.

Toxteth Food Hub had shown a real survivor quality, having almost finished their first Food Hub building only to see it all burn down a few months before completion. Despite this, the community started again, people leapt to continue to support development of the hub and they didn’t give up. Coming second in their category with a hefty 3,066 votes showed just how popular and wanted they are in their community.

We’ve always loved the Scouts and Guides, with two such organisations winning the 2015 fund. 55th Ayrshire (Dalry) Scout Group had already shown their tremendous efforts to raise substantial funds to refurbish their scout hut. We were happy to see a project following the golden rule of energy saving - fabric first.

The Anglers Pub in Bambury was one of my personal favourites. The pub faced closure and in the community spirit of keeping the local hub, Bamford Community Society raised £263,000 through selling community shares to buy the pub building. It now serves as a pub, cafe and village Post Office, all under the one roof. It was a prime example of how a community can get together to save local treasures and make it into something special. The 80s credits in their video certainly topped it for me.

There’s no doubt that with over 3,000 votes Teckels Animal Sanctuaries pulled out all the stops, narrowly missing out of the regional win. A big expense for them has been heating costs due to the need to clean bedding and blankets for the animals in care. An Air Source heat pump will reduce energy costs so they can help more animals in need.

Finally Papworth Trust in Ipswich, in its second year applying for the M&S Energy funding. We could see their drive to become more sustainable through recent updates to their building, but they needed solar panels to make more savings. They had really progressed since last year and gained more support, amounting to 1,545 votes. Maintaining the momentum in making sustainable updates was worthy of the M&S Energy grant. 

You can meet all the winners for this year’s fund on the fund website, and have a chance to view some of the great videos that won them their votes.

I can’t wait to see what next year will bring as the community fund grows and we are able to continue to help more and more community groups become more sustainable.

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