Warwickshire County Council has committed to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 and is supporting its communities to do the same by 2050 at the very latest. To overcome barriers to action and to enable communities to deliver their own local solutions, the council created a £1 million fund Community Climate Change Fund called Green Shoots.
Warwickshire County Council (WCC) declared a Climate Change Emergency in 2019 and committed to reaching net zero carbon across its estate by 2030. A further step was taken in 2021, when the council joined UK100 and pledged to lead the way on reducing emissions across the county to net zero as soon as possible, and by 2050 at the latest.
Community groups are already delivering fantastic work across the county and have great ideas and an appetite to do more. To overcome barriers to action, the council identified a need to provide funding to Warwickshire communities that would enable them in delivering their own local solutions whilst also facilitating the development of partnerships and networks.
In February 2021 the £1 million Green Shoots Community Climate Change Fund was launched to help local groups act on climate change. The scheme was open to constituted not-for-profit organisations and parish councils to develop and deliver grass roots projects. There was no minimum application level, but the maximum available was set at £25,000.
The key targets for the Green Shoots project were designed with the following application criteria in mind:
- increase the adaptability and resilience of Warwickshire to the effects of climate change
- reduce impacts on the environment, particularly regarding climate change
- ensure funded projects benefit the wider Warwickshire community.
The design of the scheme was informed by a public engagement exercise at the end of 2020, with the aim of understanding potential levels of interest, types of projects, and the level of funding that might be needed, as well as views on how the application process could be best managed.
The 178 responses and comments received demonstrated there was significant interest in such a scheme and indicated a demand for funding grass roots biodiversity projects as well as energy efficiency, renewables and active travel.
The scheme was marketed with a series of paid and organic social media campaigns, newsletter features and news releases which were picked up by media outlets across Warwickshire. A well-attended virtual ‘meet the funder event’ was facilitated by Warwick Community and Voluntary Action to increase awareness, clarify key points and support with increasing the number and quality of applications.
The application window closed in May 2021 with an overwhelming response of 110 applications totalling over £1.2m. Applications are being reviewed with an expectation that grant offers will be issued mid-July.
Given the wide variety of applications received, there are a whole spectrum of benefits. These include:
- energy generation from solar PV
- energy savings from efficiency measures
- electric vehicle charging points to stimulate the move to electric vehicles.
Several provide a range of indirect benefits:
- environmental education days for schools with the added goal to stimulate changes in behaviours of parents and communities
- community gardens, parks, tree planting and habitat recreation and their linked benefits to social and mental wellbeing and carbon mitigation
- active travel projects which provide a range of benefits such as health and reductions in vehicle emissions.
It is a requirement of the project to report progress periodically and supply a post-project evaluation, which will give an improved understanding of the benefits realised from the scheme. In many cases, there will be legacy benefits from projects that far exceed the project implementation timescale.
The initial engagement exercise helped develop an application process that was fit for purpose. Based on this feedback, we developed an application document whereby we required a greater level of detail for those seeking funding over £5,000, with less information for lower value applications, therefore reducing barriers to application.
To improve efficiency of processing, we did need to change the application format from an online PDF form to a Microsoft based form. This reduced the time to review applications and will significantly reduce time in the preparation of grant offer letters. However, this change was made a few weeks after the opening date, with some applications already received. Whilst the change of format is of benefit to WCC, it did impact those who had already completed a PDF form but later needed to resubmit it on the Microsoft form.