Programme update

We’re still taking groups on our current programme, but we’re also thinking about some different formats that might suit groups in special situations.

Our Royal Academy of Engineering grant may have finished, but don’t get confused – we are still taking new groups on. We have sufficient materials for around 30 groups and enough reserves to keep our infrastructure going for at least a year. The Royal Academy paid for an administrator to keep everything straight and for many things to set the programme up, but most of the day-to-day support has been from volunteers. The only real difference from before is that we can’t pay expenses to participating groups – so they might need to buy things like stationery and batteries, and we can’t help with the travel expenses for any volunteer engineers. In practice, only two of our past groups ever claimed expenses so we don’t think this will cause major hardship.

We are about to seek funds now that we’ve had a chance to reflect on what we need, but that’s because we expect demand to be higher than this and because there are a number of new things we think we should try – different formats suit different kinds of groups.

So here are our thoughts about what might be next:

Although it’s unusual for “green” programmes to offer advice on heating controls, we recognise that many groups will be using fossil fuels for heating for at least a few years yet. Meanwhile, many groups believe that saving any energy is impossible even though with our materials, they can often save a quarter of the fuel they’re using, become more comfortable, or both. The biggest expected gains are in difficult buildings, especially if they are in low occupancy, in insulated buildings in high occupancy but without recent boilers, and in buildings heating zones too large for the users. Our groups tell us that our thermal monitors have been the key to understanding what to do. For many group members, heating controls are a “gateway” to believing change is possible. Once they get through that part, they’re fired up for thinking about bigger changes in the rest of our programme. So we’re thinking about a stand-alone, smaller programme aimed just at organisations with fairly recent boilers.

There are third sector support organisations in Scotland who are keen to promote our programme to community groups in their local areas, so another thing we’re looking to do is events where we travel to where they are and talk to around 12 organisations at a time, giving them the key concepts of the programme, showing them how the activities work, and answering questions about their own buildings and circumstances. We’ve done this before – it’s not expensive to arrange and it’s been well-received. We might run a few events to explore some of the more difficult buildings in these locales together with the local community. We used to teach the concepts this way. It takes longer, but the organisations involved enjoyed the process, especially when we brought in students to help.

We thought originally we should avoid taking on groups who don’t own their own buildings because they would struggle to get changes made, but in some Council areas, the Council is very willing to have groups tells them what needs done, and why. They usually don’t know enough about how the building is used to get the changes right, and often have such poorly chosen heating controls that users open windows or smuggle in space heaters. We need to think more about how we can best help in this situation. That’s likely to be different from our current programme.

Finally, of course we want to have more groups benefit from the programme that the Royal Academy of Engineering helped us build. Thanks to our group leaders, volunteer engineers and professional contacts, the programme is much improved from what we offered at the start, with more improvements planned to the on-line materials to help groups act on their plans. We still dispense much of our advice individually, with a huge backlog for adding materials to the Guide Book so that others also have access to it – a process we need to improve as demand increases. We’re looking forward to the next phase of our work.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay