21st Dec 2018

Wind turbines are a familiar part of the landscape in Northumberland, and many of these renewable energy developments have close connections to the people living in nearby communities through funds at the Community Foundation.

Innogy Renewables UK runs the Kiln Pit Hill windfarm near the parish of Shotley Low Quarter. It was the first to have a community benefit fund at the Community Foundation. Since the fund was established in 2011, nearly £100,000 has been awarded to groups in the parish. One of the biggest continuing success stories is Whittonstall Community Band which was set up with support from the fund. Following a successful two years, the Band is developing capacity with a core of volunteers and has now appointed a recent graduate of Leeds College of Music to be its leader.

A key feature of community benefit funds is that the Foundation works with a panel of local people to review and recommend grants. Jean Orr chairs the community panel for the Ventient Sisters North Steads Wind Farm fund in Widdrington Station. Its first grants were awarded in 2018. Jean says: “It’s great that through the Community Foundation, local residents are involved in determining what needs should be supported and which groups should receive grants.” Ellington Juniors Football Club is one group that has benefitted. The Club is in the process of developing a facility including football pitches, a clubhouse and a multi-use games area. A grant is enabling it pay for the connection and installation of water, electric and waste drainage to the clubhouse.

For the Vattenfall Ray Windfarm area near Kirkwhelpington, a locally led community interest company has been set up, whose directors also act as the Foundation’s panel for awarding small grants from the fund. The CIC is choosing to put a proportion of the overall community benefit fund into an endowment at the Foundation to build an investment pot whose returns will provide funding for generations to come. “There’s lots we want to do in our area during the years the windfarm is operating,” says Peter Ramsden who chairs the CIC. “But by working with the Community Foundation, alongside grants, by building an endowment, we can ensure the legacy of community benefit continues long after the scheme ends.”

The Community Foundation now manages seven community benefit funds which collectively provide nearly £0.5m a year in funding to local causes. Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Windfarm operated by EDF Renewables is the latest. The new community benefit fund at the Foundation will provide £55,000 a year for groups in Blyth, East Bedlington, Cambois and the Seaton Valley. The index-linked funding will run for 25 years, or until the wind farm ceases to operate, so over £1m could be awarded to community groups and charities in an area of need.

With even more communities likely to see land and energy developments on their doorsteps in years to come, the value of the Foundation’s successful model of involving residents in the use of local funds can only grow.

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