August 3, 2021
What might have been
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard not to conclude that the potential of onshore renewable energy to transform our communities has been largely wasted. That missed potential is all the more galling when one sees how the relatively few communities who persevered (and no doubt bear the scars) are now reaping the financial rewards – all of which are being reinvested locally for the common good. Imagine if every wind farm in the country had been required to have an element of community ownership? It would have been as transformative as it has been for this community in the Western Isles.
The Social Impact Report produced for PST by Impact Hub Inverness also revealed our six core-funded organisations, including Bethesda Care Home and Hospice and Western Isles Foyer, received £639,299 over that period. A further £756,722 went to 61 community-based organisations.
Point and Sandwick Trust’s investment has levered in more than £1million of other funding and a further £1.2million has been levered in by LED energy partner TIG in home energy grants and other improvements.
Our wind farm’s activity has created or sustained 32 full-time posts and 25 part-time ones, and enabled the establishment of private tree nursery businesses due to the extent of interest in the Outer Hebrides Croft Woodlands Project.
The findings are part of a wider report that examined all the social impacts of PST’s programme of grants and is available to read online in full at https://bit.ly/PSTsocialimpact
Consultants Polly Chapman and Brian Weaver of Impact Hub Inverness presented the findings of their report to the Point and Sandwick Trust board during November’s Annual General Meeting – an event held via Zoom, due to the pandemic.
The irony of presenting the report on the wind farm’s investments in the community was not lost on anyone attending the AGM, as there were also reports on the impact of the break in the subsea power cable from Skye to Harris in October, which has forced the wind farm to shut down.
It could be a year before the cable is replaced and 18 months before money is flowing through the PST organisation again. Until then, all grants to local charities and causes have been stopped, a situation that is mirrored among the other community renewables organisations on the islands.
Impact Hub Inverness also prepared a new business plan for Point and Sandwick Trust, setting out the spending priorities for the next five years, but the circumstances mean it has had to be suspended for the time being.
In referring to the business plan and the turbulence of 2020, consultant Brian Weaver said: “The plan was written before the cable was damaged. Not only had we not anticipated Covid, neither had we anticipated the interconnector issue.”
However, he told the board “the report stands” and “the charitable objectives are still relevant” because “the issues the community faces are still the same”. The Trust’s objectives are to improve the social, educational, cultural and environmental wellbeing of the people of the Western Isles with a focus on the Point and Sandwick communities.
Polly Chapman, chief executive of Impact Hub Inverness, highlighted the overall investment and additional monies levered in, as well as the fact that 90 per cent of Croft Woodland grant recipients also put in their own money to the planting projects.
“Well done, all of you,” she told board members. “You’ve had a big impact. It’s been really important and really valuable.”
Impact Hub had attempted to survey all grant recipients and received replies from 55 per cent, which the consultants said was “a really good” rate of responses for such surveys.
They also surveyed members of the community, to gain insights into community perception and to gauge local priorities for future investment choices.
Feedback included the clear message from grant recipients that the flexibility to grants from PST, which allows them to spend the money however they see fit, was highly valued.
Polly said: “The six core groups who had that core funding really appreciated that flexibility. It gave them a lot of freedom to try things out that they might not normally do.” She stressed it was “really important” to continue to trust grant recipients, when normal service resumes, and to keep “giving them that freedom rather than tying them to specifics”.
General feedback, anonymised in the report, included comments about how “PST support has allowed us to improve our facilities significantly and its continued encouragement has given us confidence in the future of our organisation”.
Another comment read: “PST grant funding support has been invaluable to our organisation in respect of both sustaining existing service, staff posts and allowing us to grow and develop to enable us to provide targeted services for our service-user demographic.”
The Social Impact Report was warmly welcomed by Point and Sandwick Trust.
Development manager Calum MacDonald said: “This project has fulfilled every one of our hopes, dreams and aspirations when we were trying to get it started 10 years ago and the Social Impact Report is great confirmation of that.”
Chairman Norman Mackenzie said: “We were aware that our Trust was making a real difference to the social wellbeing of our community but it is really gratifying to learn the full extent of this impact through an independently-conducted impact study. When Impact Hub accepted this commission they made it clear they would deliver an honest report that detailed failures as well as successes. The report has to be read to understand the full extent in which the Trust has met its objectives over its first few years of operation.
“The report underlines the benefit that a wholly-owned community wind farm can bring to its stakeholders. As well as being able to direct all of the wind farm profit to the benefit of the community, without regard to private shareholders, we are able to operate with real flexibility and minimal bureaucracy and that allows grant recipients to use our support in a manner that best serves their purpose.”
When he was closing the AGM, the chairman had told board members and other stakeholders: “I hope you all go away tonight with the understanding that PST may be a wee bit down at the moment but we’ll be back fighting within the next 12 months.”
The Social Impact Report has revealed what that fighting form looks like, in terms of community investment.