The first innovative winner from our Rural Innovators Awards I’d like to share with you came in the ‘Climate Change’ category . Climate change is a growing concern everywhere, and ties in with growing fuel poverty. The project I am about to tell you about addresses both climate change and fuel poverty and in my mind, a very worth winner in being able to address not only these issues but also elements of health as well through the project.
Cosy Homes East Sutherland Scheme (CHESS), based in Bonar Bridge, was started in January 2016, with the intention of running for a year, but has been extended into 2017, and was setup to allow eligible clients access to grants from £3,000 all the way up to £12,000 for householders to install energy efficient measures and improvements to their homes. These include the likes of replacing full central heating systems, floor insulation, installation of double glazed windows, heating control upgrades. The high number of votes for CHESS in this category during the Rural Innovators Award vote is reflected in the number of people who have benefited from the energy improvement works carried out on their homes.
Climate Change goes hand in hand with one of the biggest problems affecting not just rural Scotland, but the whole UK: Fuel Poverty. Scottish Rural Action’s Manifesto pledges to “eradicate fuel poverty and for funding to be made available for community projects that raise awareness of and tackle fuel poverty.”
CHESS, in my mind, is just one great example of this type of project. Through the scheme, they have had 300 enquiries in the Kyle of Sutherland area, of which 100 referrals were made to partnership organisations (such as Home Energy Scotland) and also have installed 45 homes in the area with energy efficiency measures to combat fuel poverty. CHESS’s other achievement also secured further financial benefit to the local economy. CHESS’s contractors list are made up of a majority of local contractors, not always easy with procurement legislation, and as a result of the scheme £235,000 has been put back into the local economy.
CHESS was started as a similar follow-on project within the Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust called “Greening Kyle” which had identified that many of the clients that had been visited were either in or at high risk of falling into fuel poverty. The start up of CHESS was able to fast-track and secure clients from the previous project, based on different criteria such as age, health, number of people in the home, income, fuel spend, home conditions and the efficiency of existing heating systems – or in other words, their need. Further to this, CHESS secured more interest and clients through advertising on social media platforms, local newspapers and also distribution of leaflets and posters. Due to the success of the scheme in the local area, word of mouth was also a huge contributor in securing enquiries for the small team at CHESS.
Like any project, and anything really in life, there was always going to be challenges for the project. CHESS would carry out Hhme visits to ensure their clients were getting the most efficient home improvements by the Project Officer or Assistant Officer. Geography and budget was the biggest challenge in this sense, with several client visits being potentially up to a 100 mile round trip. CHESS did have plans in place to combat this;by incorporating several client visits in one trip, sending flyers/posters to specific areas, they made savings on fuel costs and were able to effectively manage staff time. Over the phone assessments were available to see if clients were eligible for one of the many industry based grant schemes, and Home Energy Scotland schemes.
Looking to the future, sadly all good things must come to an end. At the time of exploring this project even further after the Rural Parliament (November 2016), there was a feeling that the CHESS scheme would receive no more funding from one of its primary income sources, the British Gas Healthy Homes Fund, thus resulting in the project finishing at the end of March 2017. It will however leave a legacy – a legacy of over 40 homes being more energy efficient, and the people living within them will feel benefits in home living with warmer homes, lower fuel bills and potential health benefits as well. For the people that CHESS has served since 2016, East Sutherland Energy Advice Service will now provide a home energy advice service, with aims to reduce carbon emissions, fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency, covering the same area as CHESS has done.
I believe projects like CHESS should be replicated all over rural Scotland. The evidence shows that small projects can have lasting benefits and I would congratulate CHESS for leading and developing such an innovative project. When asked if there was any advice CHESS would give to anyone looking to replicate such a project, CHESS said that gaining trust of local people is very important, but can often be hard to do, with suggestion of running events or drop-in service one day a week, allowing for a face to face meeting with those running such a project. That is why it’s such a shame short-term funding means the end of a project which had made such important connections in the community already. If we want to seriously tackle fuel poverty and mitigate climate change impacts, we need to make effective grass-roots projects that are at the heart of the new Scottish Energy Efficiency Programme.
CHESS contribution by Cat Wright (Project Assistant-CHESS)
“Manifesto for rural Scotland” available to view and download.