John Hughes describes a parish community energy scheme glowing into life in Old Trafford
“YOU COULD DO IT AS A CO-OP,” FIONA SAID, licking her free ice cream at a ‘Meet Your Neighbours’ interfaith event in the summer of 2011. Fiona Nicholls runs an environmental action co-operative and is now a codirector here at St John’s Sunshine.
We were looking at the large south facing roof of the red brick church. Like many churches built on an east-west axis, the south roof runs the length of the nave, chancel and sanctuary. It now houses 39 solar panels, with room for another 15. This then was the answer to the question asked over the ice cream: how does a roof rich, cash poor church raise the money to get the panels up there? Do it as a co-op: St John’s Sunshine.
Since 2012, when the first panels went up, this parochial (in the best sense of the word), volunteer-led business has generated over 17,000 Kw of Co2 free energy. It provides electricity at no charge to the adjacent church hall, used by people of all faiths and none, seven days a week. Central to the co-op’s aim of promoting renewable energy is the awarding of ‘sunshine grants’ to local groups. This year they were announced during a pantomime – Jack and the Beanstalk, to mark the International Year of Pulses!
The sunshine grants are funded through the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) for generating green energy. Sunshine is a business so some funds are kept back for a rainy day and to pay those who bought shares in the original scheme. A second array of panels went up in 2015. By this time the Feed-in Tariff had been reduced from 45p to 13p and ruled out a share offer. Yet the good will generated by the scheme and the transparency of the business model allowed the second phase to go ahead – through a combination of grants, innovative fundraising and people’s amazing generosity.
This year, Sunshine has joined 17 other community groups in a scheme promoted by Greater Manchester Council for Voluntary Organisations and climate change campaigners 10:10. We aim to raise £50,000 to help community hubs go solar.
People like the St John’s Sunshine model. We are a business, run by volunteers, with a co-operative heart for both community and environment. It is a small project but feel we are making a difference. My own hope is that, by the year 2050, more churches find common ground with people in their communities to safeguard what Pope Francis has called our common home. In this way, at least a local level, churches might demonstrate that another way is possible.
John Hughes is Founding Director St John’s Sunshine, Priest in Charge St John the Evangelist, Old Trafford and Manchester Diocesan Environment Officer
FiT The Feed-in Tariff scheme is a UK government programme designed to encourage smallscale projects for the generation of electricity using renewable and lowcarbon sources. If a householder or community group has an eligible installation, such as St John’s solar panels, then FiT pays a tariff for the electricity they generate and for any electricity they export back to the grid. For more information see: www.gov.uk/feed-in-tariffs/overview