Fund name: Vattenfall Unlock our Future Fund
Current fund donor: Vattenfall
Related renewable energy scheme: European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm)
Annual fund value (per MW installed): £1,550
Annual fund value (total): £150,000
Year of fund commencement:Fund area of benefit: Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire
Current fund administrator: Foundation Scotland
The Unlock our Future Fund is a community benefit fund linked to the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre, which is owned and operated by Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm Limited, a subsidiary of Vattenfall.
The Fund supports projects focused on environmental sustainability taking place within the local authority areas of Aberdeenshire and/or the City of Aberdeen. This is a fund area far larger than many community benefit funds which have traditionally focused on smaller clusters of communities or single communities.
Vattenfall contributes £150,000 per annum to the fund (as at 2019), tracking the Retail Price Index, for the life of the wind farm, which is expected to be at least 20 years.
The fund makes grants of between £500 and £15,000 for activity in any one year, with the possibility of grants up to £30,000 for projects taking place over three years (up to £10,000 in year two and £5,000 in year three).
The overall purpose of the fund is to support charitable activity that addresses the following priorities:
- contribute to a climate smarter world with sustainability at its core
- invest in community facilities and activities that are fit for the future and are environmentally sustainable, especially community spaces and transport
- support creative solutions
- ensure a legacy (lasting impact) which brings clear benefit to the local community.
Thus, the aim of the Fund is specifically focused on long-term initiatives which tackle climate change, and which gives the fund a distinct and unequivocal focus.
Prior to the launch of the fund, Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm Limited commissioned the University of Edinburgh to work with them on the development of the Fund. Following a three-month consultation, which generated a very good response from across the two local authority areas, a clear picture was obtained of the kind of scheme that the communities would like to see. The findings of this consultation were reflected in the fund priorities.
Ten percent of the fund (£15,000 per year) is set aside for project activity meeting the fund priorities in Blackdog, the community hosting the onshore substation for the wind farm. The remainder of the fund is available for activities throughout the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire area.
Decisions on how the fund is spent are made by panel of ‘community champions’. The panel is formed of six people appointed through an open recruitment process. Panel members are appointed on the basis of their knowledge, skills, and interest in the geographical area of benefit, and the strategic priorities of the fund are expected to serve between two and four years. The panel undertook a selection process and appointed Foundation Scotland as the fund administrators. Foundation Scotland is a charity with significant experience in supporting community benefit funds.
Providing support and information to potential applicants has been a priority for the panel and Foundation Scotland since the fund’s launch. During the first year, 2019, five drop-in events were held for potential applicants, spread across the fund area. These were attended by panel members, Foundation Scotland, and support organisations including Aberdeenshire Voluntary Action, Aberdeen Council of Voluntary Organisations, Aberdeenshire Rural Partnerships, Local Energy Scotland and other funders, including the National Lottery Community Fund. During the fund’s second year, two drop-in sessions were held initially. Support was then made available via the telephone and video conferencing in place of face-to-face sessions because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Demand for the fund significantly exceeded the available funding in both the first and second years. As the fund was oversubscribed, the panel adopted a two-stage assessment process. All projects were initially assessed for their contribution to the fund’s strategic priorities. Only those considered a good fit proceeded to a full assessment.
Projects requesting funding of less than £2,000 completed a shorter application form but underwent the same assessment process as larger projects.
On completion of the first two years of grant making, the panel carried out a review of the fund’s priorities and delivery via an online survey of organisations that had either applied, attended information sessions, or expressed an interest in hearing about the fund. The survey was also circulated to members of the wider public. As a result of the fund review, the panel concluded the following.
- A further simplified application and assessment process would be piloted for small grants of less than £2,000. The turnaround period for decisions on these awards will be shorter than for the large awards.
- In future, applicants will have to meet three rather than all four fund priorities. However, applications will be stronger if all four priorities are met.
- The fund priorities would be reworded. Formerly the priority relating to ‘creative solutions’ referred to ‘innovation’. Feedback from applicants was that this was taken to mean technological innovation. The rewording is intended to make clear that new and creative approaches don’t necessarily rely on technology exclusively but could also include who is involved, the actual project idea and/or wider connections the project is making, and the ability of the project to demonstrate good practice to new audiences.
- The ‘energy hierarchy’ will be referenced in the guidance for applicants. This emphasises the role of energy conservation as well as renewable generation in moving to a low carbon future.
- Applicants would be encouraged to make use of advice available through organisations such as Zero Waste Scotland in developing their projects.
Key outcomes and achievements
The fund has awarded £237,779 in its first two years, to 23 projects.
As the fund aims to support projects that will provide a long-term legacy, at this point it is difficult to identify the full impacts brought about by the fund. In addition, COVID-19 has delayed delivery of many of the funded projects. However, there are early examples of outcomes supported.
- Investing in community buildings. Over half of the awards made in the first two years of the fund related to energy efficiency measures in community buildings. This included air source heat pumps at Strachan Village Hall, Fittie Gospel Hall, Newburgh Public Hall, and Tarves Youth Hall; solar panels at Aberdeen Association of Social Service, Buchan Community Farm, and Peterhead Sailing Club; and an upgrade of lighting systems at The Barn arts centre. In addition, Alford and District Men’s Shed have been funded to develop a project which combines different generation sources and battery storage to optimise the renewable energy system for the building – a truly creative solution.
- Development of climate smart transport. Four awards were made to organisations to purchase electric vehicles. Tigh a’Chomainn Camphill School purchased an electric car; Aberdeenshire Sailing Trust purchased an electric van; Meldrum Amenities Association purchased an electric utility vehicle, and Buchan Dial-A-Community Bus received an award to provide a responsive transport service with an electric seven-seater vehicle. Awards have also been made to Community Food Initiatives North East and Camphill Rudolf Steiner Schools to replace conventionally fuelled delivery vehicles with electric bikes.
- Building knowledge for a climate smart future. Projects focussed on rolling out innovation and promoting education include a feasibility study for Huntly and District Development Trust into the development of a community owned charging network; a student-led project at Aberdeen University building a hydrogen fuelled prototype racing car; an education facility at Tarland; and a training programme for community groups delivered by Community Energy Scotland.
The fund panel is working with Foundation Scotland to develop a monitoring approach that will track the long-term impacts of the Fund.
As the Unlock Our Future Fund covers a large geographical area, this has allowed the fund donor to adopt a set of priorities narrower than many traditional community benefit funds, in this case focused on long-term initiatives addressing climate change and in line with the donor’s corporate mission. Where funds benefit smaller areas, such a specific focus may be less abundant as there will be a smaller pool of potential applicants.
No grant awards have been made to date from the ringfenced amount for the Blackdog community, though a major project is in development by the local Residents’ Association.
If amounts are ringfenced for small communities within a fund area, ongoing engagement and support may be required over several years in order to bring projects to fruition.
The funding available to the wider fund area has been oversubscribed and demand has had to be managed. Ways of doing this have included providing plentiful opportunities for potential applicants to engage at an early stage and discuss proposals before submitting applications, and the introduction of a two-stage process for the main grants programme. These approaches have resulted in a significant number of groups deciding not to proceed with an application as their projects were a poor fit with the fund priorities, thereby saving them (as well as the panel and fund administrator) time that may have been spent on unfruitful applications and ensuring those projects that are funded are the most impactful.
The fund review revealed that information sessions for potential applicants were valued by those who attended. As well as finding out about the fund, applicants were able to access other support and funders. The involvement of Local Energy Scotland was felt to be particularly useful in assisting groups with the planning of energy efficiency measures.
The panel has elicited views on the operations of the fund during the first two years and modified priorities and processes as a result. The panel will continue to listen to feedback and make improvements.
COVID-19 inevitably delayed many projects supported by the fund. However, the focus of the fund is on long-term benefits. The pandemic has also forced the panel and fund administrator to provide information and support to applicants online rather than face-to-face. However, feedback from applicants suggests that online and phone support is a welcome addition and is likely to continue once the pandemic has passed.
“The Panel had a tough job because there were so many excellent applications … we look forward to seeing the fruition of these exciting and innovative projects.” – Hamish Vernal, Unlock our Future Fund Panel Chair, 2019-20.
“We are well on our way to creating a facility for the whole community, with meeting rooms, catering facilities and workshops inside and sensory garden, community orchard, polytunnel and allotments outside. If we can show cost-effective ways to move towards net zero with our energy use, we can inform our many users of the options and possibilities to enable them to carry these ideas into their own homes. – Bill Slee, Trustee, Alford and District Men’s Shed