Community Meeting at Bowden Pillars Farm (credit: Ruth Sutcliffe)

The way that we have been running our societies and economies hasn’t been working for most life on earth, including most people, for some time.

Most people would agree that we want a world where:-

  • Children don’t go hungry;
  • Our pensioners and other vulnerable people are looked after and feel cared for and valued;
  • Our children feel safe and can thrive, be happy and grow to be useful and content members of society;
  • People who work hard and contribute to society are rewarded and feel valued;
  • The air we breathe and the water we drink and swim in, is safe and not polluted;
  • Other life on earth has a chance to thrive;
  • We look out for each other as we would hope others would look out for us.

Whichever way you look at it – we have been failing on all of these goals for some time and so we have to reassess how we are doing things.   

We have been doing business and running our society in a way that has led to:-

  • Dangerous climate change and nature being perilously depleted;
  • Vulnerability to the many crises now facing us;
  • Extreme inequality – with people rewarded primarily on the basis of how much money they have, not on how much they contribute to society. No one is suggesting that those who work hard shouldn’t be rewarded – but extreme wealth inequality no longer even does that;
  • Polarisation – with people who feel let down being told that their problems are caused by other people who have also been let down – not by the people and corporations who are really responsible.

A key feature of our current broken system is the concentration of wealth, assets and resources – and so power – in the hands of a small group of mega wealthy individuals and corporations. This hasn’t worked out too well for everyone else, so a great way of trying something different is to help get key resources into community hands.

If you are an impact investor or a philanthropist you will want to achieve maximum positive impact from your money, and here we share some ideas on how you can do that by supporting community projects.

But we are all members of our communities – and here we also give some ideas on how we can all help people to make taking care of, and sharing care of their communities, the fundamentals of life.

Community energy

Installing final solar panels on the YMCA Humber building in Grimsby (credit: Vicky Dunn)

What is community energy?

Community energy refers to the delivery of community-led renewable energy, energy demand reduction and energy supply projects, whether wholly-owned and/or controlled by communities or through a partnership with commercial or public sector partners.

Why community energy?

In prioritising the green transition the impetus must be on ensuring that we produce energy as efficiently as possible and where it is most needed.

By this metric, supporting community energy projects is key, focusing on providing energy to homes and businesses, shortening the supply chain and channelling the financial benefits from energy production back into the communities and not into the pockets of the very energy companies who have caused the climate crisis and fuel poverty.   

Helping to speed up community energy not only speeds up transition from fossil fuels in a very direct and immediate way, it also puts control over energy in the hands of communities, and so provides protection from fuel poverty caused by energy firms profiteering on high energy prices and prioritising director bonuses over keeping families and pensioners warm. And at a time when energy security is a growing concern, this kind of homegrown energy can help balance the UK’s energy system.

If you are an impact investor looking to maximise sustainable and social impact for money in an immediate way, you can’t do better than investing in community energy.

Tim Stumpff and Julia Davies (me) are now working on how we can help accelerate community energy projects. Find out more here.

Community land

Community Meeting at Bowden Pillars Farm (credit: Ruth Sutcliffe)

Current land ownership isn’t working too well

“Land ownership in Britain is highly concentrated and unequal: just 1% of the population own half the land in England, while in Scotland just 432 landowners own 50% of the private land. This isn’t only an issue of social and economic inequality; it also poses major problems for transforming the way we use land in order to address the climate and nature crises.”  Guy Shrubsole – Who owns England?

State of Nature

In 2019 the State of Nature report (National Biodiversity Network) highlighted the literally devasted state of nature here in the UK.  Us Brits pride ourselves on being nature lovers, we spend more per head on bird food than anyone else.  Yet we live in one of the most nature depleted countries on Earth.

  • Since 1971 we have lost half of all vertebrates (in numbers, not species)
  • Since 1966 44 million birds have been lost
  • 15% of UK species face extinction
  • We’ve lost 98% of turtle doves in half a century
  • The much loved hedgehog is now fighting for survival

It turns out that our green and pleasant land isn’t so pleasant after all – not if you’re a bird, a bee or a hedgehog.   

Right to Roam

The mental and physical benefits of access to nature and green spaces is clearly documented. Despite this, we the public are allowed access to only 8% of English land. Of the 92% of land we are excluded from, only 6% is built on, and 56% farmed. So that’s a lot of land that’s not feeding us or providing a home or business premises, which we are kept out of.

Even worse, we are allowed access to only 3% of English rivers.

50% of English land is owned by 1% of its population. Meanwhile, 1 in 8 families have no access to a garden, and in Tower Hamlets, London, 40% of families have no garden.

Recommended reading:

Rebirding: Restoring Britain’s Wildlife by Benedict Macdonald

Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery by Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe

The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines that Divide Us by Nick Hayes

The Trespasser’s Companion by Nick Hayes

Who Owns England?: How We Lost Our Land and How to Take it Back by Guy Shrubsole

We believe that communities make better custodians of land. Find out more here.

Community food

Food growing at the Apricot Centre (credit: Claire Stapley)

There are an increasing number of great organisations producing food at a community level.   These groups need funds to buy land and operate.   Examples include:-

Community homes

With house prices putting home ownership out of reach of many people and rents ever rising – access to good quality, secure housing provided by socially minded landlords is vital. Add to this the need for affordable energy so that people aren’t at the mercy of energy companies profiteering on the back of an energy crisis.

Here are some examples of innovative community groups who are filling this need:-