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Guest Blog from Community Benefit Society, Solar for Schools

How Suffolk schools going solar may point us in the right direction

for “Building Back Better” post Covid19

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A world in flux: particularly for UK schools

Usually when you start a job, I hear it’s common to feel like the world turns a little upside down. Well, I have to admit that over past 9 months of beginning my career supporting schools in going solar, any dislocation I felt in starting that personal journey, has been overridden by the collective journey coming from the daily conversations working with schools and students during one of the most intense periods I think ever faced by the sector.

Since I began my job last October, it’s safe to say the world of education really has turned upside down. Where it’s future is heading is unclear. But like many others, I see schools increasingly asking a fundamental question: That is: How do we “build back better”, safer, stronger, more resilient, post-covid19?

In response to that question, I wanted to share an example of positive action and a story of hope. To celebrate Suffolk schools that I believe took on the responsibility and opportunity of building back better, even before the global pandemic forced us to ask that question and to set those principles of supporting public services, tackling inequality, creating jobs and overall building a more shockproof economy.

I want to positively shine a light on how Community Action Suffolk volunteers can support schools across Suffolk and the UK, and what benefits there might be in following those steps.

A case study of positive action: Suffolk Schools and solar

Back in 2019, a group of 7 Suffolk schools came to our programme looking to go solar. They were led by a pioneering Estate’s Manager at the Roman Catholic Diocese of East Anglia, Helen Bates, and driven by the words of the latest edict of Pope Francis: highlighting the real dangers posed by the climate crisis, and the need for everyone to change paths, and to no longer, “act as normal”.

While back then the Build Back Better campaign had not existed to lay out its goals, many of its principles can be found in the outcomes of these schools’ and their choice to act back in 2019.

At its heart of coming to the Solar for Schools programme is a vision of tackling inequality – particularly that of clean energy access across the UK school sector. Our programme’s offer to schools, is to fully fund solar panel projects so that we could open up opportunities to take on climate change and secure cheaper energy access, for all those who otherwise would not be able to afford buying and looking after solar panels on their roof.

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A snapshot of the programme’s success in supporting UK schools since 2015

An overview of the programme’s approach with school solar projects

For our determined Suffolk school group, this ability to go solar at no cost enabled them to take action to meet their vision of a new way forward for the planet, their budget and their students; in response to new dangers and challenges; particularly that of the climate crisis.

It allowed the schools to save over 2100+ tonnes (or 5500 trees worth) of carbon from ever entering the atmosphere, and brought cheaper electricity to the sites; saving an expected £210,000+ in bills over the next 25 years.

Because the Solar for School’s programme also builds in that schools are the voting members of its organisation, expected project profits (100% of which go back to our school members) will provide an estimated £300,000 in new income generated for the schools, that they can spend on whatever they wish.

A key final priority in looking ahead for the future, was of course their students. As highlighted in the later quote by Helen Bates, the opportunity of not only having solar, but also having fully funded workshops and assemblies about clean energy and climate change for students, was what won the schools heart’s in making the eventual decision to go ahead.

A vision for others

As I see schools and others now look ahead to the question “building back better”: to meeting those principles of tackling inequality, protecting public services, creating a shockproof economy and providing well paid jobs for the future: I want to celebrate and ask that we keep in our vision what these Suffolk schools did last year.

To celebrate how they drove funding back (through making savings and taking profit) to the one of the greatest public assets that we have – our schools. To celebrate how they supported the distribution of energy supplies, and clean energy access, to new sites across the country; in doing creating a more resilient and shockproof energy economy. To celebrate how their ambition supported well paid jobs for a mixture of professions including new UK educators, clean energy installers, structural engineers, and solar pv designers. And overall, I want to celebrate that even before the question was being asked: these schools created a tangible vision of what “building back better” could look like here in Suffolk and in the UK more broadly.

I urge volunteers within Community Action Suffolk to encourage other schools to follow these steps; to get in touch with our programme and to see what’s possible as we move into this world turned upside down.

Quote from Helen Bates at the Roman Catholic Diocese about the experience of working with Solar for Schools UK: “The Diocese was always keen to incorporate eco-friendly technology into its buildings, and there were many companies out there trying to offer this so service to schools. It was difficult to separate the good and the bad ones. However there’s not many who also offered profit-sharing to schools together with interactive educational opportunities for pupils alongside savings on energy costs, and that’s why we chose to work with them. On a practical level, the installation of solar panels at the schools was completed efficiently with minimal disruption to day-to-day school operations. Teething problems were dealt with swiftly. I believe SfS’ passion for what they do is their driving force and is infectious. Working with them was and continues to be, a no brainer!”

Let’s get ready to start again: better, stronger, safer, more ready for the future.

Author Bio

Shannon Jackson is a guest writer for the Community Action Suffolk newsletter. She is 24 and works at Solar for Schools in the Projects team. She is contactable at shannon@solarforschools.co.uk for those interested on gathering more information / getting started.

For all things social investment, including developing Community Benefit Societies, please contact Sarah Lomasney, Social Investment Officer here at CAS sarah.lomasney@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk