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Zero Carbon Communities Programme, South Cambridgeshire District Council

South Cambridgeshire District Council set up the Zero Carbon Communities (ZCC) Grant scheme to harness local action and enthusiasm, build local community networks and to enable this through a consistent and sustainable funding approach.

The challenge

The climate crisis requires adaptation, public engagement and innovation at a local community level to reach net zero targets. Many people want to act on climate change, but don’t know what this would look like in their community, and are unsure of where to start or are daunted by the scope of what they could do.

In South Cambridgeshire, there was a need to support communities with their attempts to tackle the climate emergency and a need for funding which supported a wide range of community projects. South Cambridgeshire District Council set up the Zero Carbon Communities (ZCC) Grant scheme to harness local action and enthusiasm, build local community networks and to enable this through a consistent and sustainable funding approach.

Since its inception, the ZCC Grant scheme has developed into a wider programme of support that is responsive to the emerging needs of the community groups, such as sharing best practices and extending networking activities.

The solution

The ZCC Programme is a wide programme of support with multiple elements and at its heart is a grant scheme. The scheme consists of an annual funding round of up to £100,000 split between different community projects (£1,000 to £15,000 each). It has been in place for three years and the 4th round of funding has just been announced. A total of 61 projects have been funded through the programme so far.

The programme’s wider set of support, beyond the funding, includes ways for communities to link up and troubleshoot, to ask for help and to receive and provide support. Their quarterly newsletter provides local examples of good practice as well as tips and tricks; a series of webinars that connects groups with each-other to share lessons learnt and discuss a variety of topics; and events programmes that have included topics such as “Cycling for Sustainability” and “Greening your Business”. More recently, a Facebook page has been set up to support wider access, alongside an intention to restart face to face community group meetings following the COVID-19 pandemic. South Cambridgeshire District Council is committed to remain flexible to the best engagement approaches and to adapt these accordingly.

Funding is provided from the council’s ‘Renewable Reserve’, built up from retained business rates from renewable energy developments (such as solar farms).  The council earmarks this reserve for climate and environment projects - including the ZCC Grant scheme.

The impact

The ZCC projects have a variety of impacts which are monitored and evaluated in different ways, some being qualitative, and others being anecdotal. South Cambridgeshire District Council has calculated equivalent carbon emission savings for all projects across the previous three years. This year they asked applicants to estimate their predicted carbon savings.

The ZCC Programme reports on how many people have been engaged through the projects and how many have committed to making a meaningful change in their daily lives. Ongoing conversations across platforms have also been effective in helping communities build knowledge and awareness for what they need and how South Cambridgeshire District Council, or other community groups, can support them.

The council also monitors webinar participation rates and feedback from the community groups. It is recognised that the direct support has been effective and that areas have been funded that would not have been otherwise.

Some project-level examples are provided below with their specific impacts:

Cambridge Sustainable Food is a Cambridgeshire-based food charity that was granted £15,000 in the first round of the ZCC grant scheme. Through the project, they set up two community fridges which saved 5.97 tonnes of food from going to landfill. They had 80 attendees at online events, and their online cookery demos and environmental tales read aloud received 1,100 views subsequently online. They hosted six stalls in local villages designed to educate their 250 visitors on what a climate diet is and how to involve it in your daily life. They also developed Climate Diet Pledges, which helped participants to commit to making a change in their own lives. The group also developed an E-Recipe book to have something tangible that individuals could refer back to.

The group said, “The campaign has enabled us to develop a strong network in South Cambs and we hope this will enable further effective partnership working in future”.  The group themselves received feedback from participants of the community fridges project who said, “Over the last few weeks I've stopped peeling carrots and I've started freezing odds and ends of vegetables to make stock.”

Net Zero Now is a project from Cambridge Carbon Footprint which was awarded £15,000 from the ZCC Grant. The Net Zero Now project designed and delivered free training to 12 community leaders to educate them on climate change, allowing them to become local ambassadors on the topic. These individuals are now working on initiatives including village hall sustainability, toy and book swaps, bike repair schemes and eco-festivals. The resources developed through the project have been transformed into a free online training course and will help to deliver future in-person and online courses.

Lessons learned

  • Inclusion matters and is a challenge - a key lesson and ongoing challenge has been the inclusivity of the programme. It has, to date, been more accessible to those with more time, higher incomes and pre-existing interest in climate change, whilst there have been lower levels of engagement from young people.
  • South Cambridgeshire District Council wants the project to benefit a diverse range of people. It is looking at how it can benefit marginalised groups and how co-benefits of projects such as tackling food poverty can be brought into the funding criteria. The council is starting to monitor inclusion, for example characteristics data will be captured through the programme’s post-webinar surveys. Other communication channels are also being looked at for how they can be adjusted for hard-to-reach groups.
  • The pre-feasibility process and open communication matters - the success of the ZCC projects was supported by ensuring clear and early understanding of project feasibility and requirements, and for any issues to be well known upfront. A recommendation is for pre-feasibility workshops to communicate the needs and criteria of the grant and for openness in discussing and receiving trouble-shooting from community-based projects.
  • There are significant communication and engagement benefits from projects being hyper-local in nature. Projects can utilise hyper-local events to really connect with people and to make climate change action seem much more manageable and tangible. These projects can build people’s awareness of what they can do themselves. Hyper-local projects also provide an opportunity to be flexible for when people are fatigued with online events and communication. This may be particularly relevant in a rural area with local and village events and parish groups.
  • As the South Cambridgeshire localities grow, with the presence of growing and larger towns, utilising these sustainability networks and sense of community is deemed to be critical for enabling climate change action.