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Vince Ward, Project Officer at the Southern Housing Group

Vince Ward, Project Officer at the Southern Housing Group

By Vince Ward

What started out as a community-based energy project on the Isle of Wight has morphed into a bona fide social movement.

Encouraged by the work of IBM Distinguished Engineer, Andy Stanford-Clark, who created a “smart” house that monitored, managed and optimized energy use, three years ago the Village of Chale created the Chale Community Project, which seeks, among other things, to reduce home energy costs by up to 50 percent. While the project has indeed raised awareness and helped residents lower costs, it has also had a serendipitous outcome – it has brought the community together.

From the very beginning of the Chale Community Project – during planning and roll-out phases – we worked on ensuring the local community was on board. Going from door to door, the team would communicate with residents about the plan of action, encourage participation and try to boost morale.

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With confidence growing we continued by introducing schemes that would improve quality of life for the village. Local residents embraced the training schemes we provided on renewable technologies which not only offered new skills but opened up employment opportunities in areas previously unavailable. The schemes also benefited other parts of the island as residents could now act as ‘local green champions’ to educate other villages that were developing plans to become more sustainable.

These successful early activities encouraged the village to grab hold of the project and take it further. For example, local resident Peter Atkinson now manages a new data centre filled with computers donated from a local school that had closed. The computers are being used to train residents in core IT skills to help them use the Internet to pay bills and access online Government information. Atkinson believes that around 50 percent of the village is without Internet access in their homes, so the project has made a massive difference to people’s lives in that respect.

These activities have provided a solid foundation from which we built and expanded our sustainability project.  In addition to the aforementioned, the team has:

  • Persuaded the local transport company to halve bus fares to encourage the use of public transportation for residents
  • Seen a dramatic drop in rent arrears as energy monitoring has made utility bills more manageable; some residents have reported reductions of up to 50 percent
  • Created an allotment area in the village, where young and old residents are brought together to reinforce a new sense of community spirit

Planning For The Future

Though we have achieved so much so far, we still have a lot of plans for the future.

For example, we are very excited to be the first village on the island working on a roll out of SMART meters that will replace electricity meters.

Additionally, we are talking to residents about launching a new electric vehicle project in the village which establishes clusters of electric vehicles (EV) to mimic a future network. If residents take part, we will offer the use of a brand new electric vehicle at a discounted rate for an 18-month trial period and install an EV charging point free of charge for each trial participant.

For us, the emphasis in all of these activities is on the community helping itself to live more sustainably. That is why we are pleased to be working with IBM to support the Business in the Community’s Start campaign called Be the Start. Start is an initiative inspired by HRH The Prince of Wales and the campaign is running throughout May with over 40 brands and organisations inspiring people to live sustainably by demonstrating how it can be rewarding and meaningful.

On 14 May IBM will bring sustainable living to life with a Chale focus on www.smartertrends.co.uk. IBM supported the installation of energy monitoring technology in the village which helped save energy and water so I’ll be hosting a Twitter chat with Andy Stanford-Clark on 14 May at 10:00AM ET to provide insights and top tips. So please come and join us by following @smartertrends or #IBMChale to find out more about the Chale Community Project.

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