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On 3rd May we launched the M&S Energy Community Energy Fund for the second year running, with up to £350,000 available to support community energy projects across Great Britain. Applications are open now, so if you know of a community group looking to install a renewable technology, send them our way and to apply on the fund website.

As M&S Energy Operations Manager, this is one of my favourite projects to work on as it’s a great opportunity for our business to really make a difference in local communities. Earlier in the year I blogged about some of our 2015 winners and my experiences visiting them .

To mark the launch of this year’s scheme I wanted to share more stories from some of our inspiring 2015 winners, hopefully they’ll inspire a new crop of community groups to get involved… 

Peter Gowland from Hartlepower CIC who applied to create Hartlepool’s first “solar school”:  
“Hartlepower CIC, a social enterprise, has been running since January 2015 consisting of four of us from varied backgrounds – a nuclear engineer, a criminologist, a telecoms manager and a community development officer! We were delighted to discover that M&S were running the M&S Energy Community Energy Fund as this popped up at just the right time in July 2015. We were overwhelmed by the response of parents, teachers, the general public and local organisations, resulting in 1523 votes being cast, everyone engaged did their part to help us win! The panels are now fully operational and it has been amazing to track the energy generation. We were provided an app so you can go on your mobile phone and get real time energy generation information. It was so exciting to see the panels approach capacity generation by March, fulfilling almost all of the school’s energy needs, which should save the school around £80,000 over 20 years.”

Emma Harvey from Trinity Arts Centre who were inspired by Bristol being named European Green Capital 2015: 
“We are based in one of Bristol's most deprived inner-city areas. Used by over 50,000 people each year, centre users give positive feedback about the venue's 'flexibility', 'diversity' and 'history'. In 2015/2016 we aimed to make the venue greener. As part of Bristol Green Capital 2015 we delivered a very successful programme of community workshops engaging 780 participants from the community and local schools. We also hosted four public green capital events. This instilled an ambition to continue the greening of our building and so came our ambition to install solar panels.  In December 2015, we completed a solar panel installation, thanks to support from the M&S Energy Community Energy Fund, with match funding support from the Naturesave Trust. Installation work was carried out by local firm Clawtech Electrical. The project marked a success for the city of Bristol during Green Capital year, 2015. 
Our experience of the M&S Fund competition was a really positive one - it helped to raise the profile of Trinity and our wider work and really get people on board with supporting our ongoing capital project. We set up campaigns online and encouraged people to support via our website, social media and e-newsletters.”

Ralph Walker from Skelton Grange Environment Centre who welcome over 6500 vistors a year to take part in consveration and biodiversity activities: 
“Skelton Grange welcomes over 6,500 people a year to the centre. Our adult trainees lead education sessions for kids and conservation & biodiversity projects for adults.  Our community energy project saw the installation of a new ground source heat pump that has made Skelton Grange Environment Centre a warmer, more comfortable place for the community to use. It was such a close competition and we are so grateful to our partners, friends, volunteers, local schools, other charitable and social enterprise groups, local authorities and corporate supporters for voting. Our group remains unchanged in delivering its main line of education, conservation and community work, but is a whole lot warmer now!”

Sharon Lashley, June Goodchild, Mike Carr, Dennis Reeves from the Easterside Partnership - a resident led registered charitable organisation whose objectives are to improve the infrastructure and environment of the Easterside estate: 

“We found out about the M&S Energy Community Energy Fund from our delivery partners at Middlesbrough Environment City and with the help of our consultant, agreed on a project to install solar panels and LED lighting to the Community Hub building. The objective was to make the shopping area safer and secure at night in dark winter months whilst being economic. The Easterside Partnership and our local community are delighted with the success of our project as it not only means that we have a source of green energy, we now also have the ability to sustain the running costs for our CCTV cameras and a safer, brighter environment for our residents.  Lots of our residents have already commented on the huge difference the LED lighting to the Hub and the Pyramids has made to the area and that they now feel much safer and able to visit the shops at evening times.”   

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