Green Hubs saw the engagement of community buildings to explore their capacity to become exemplars of best practice and, in time, ‘Green Hubs’ providing energy advice to residents. Using existing expertise, the council’s Energy Services Team provided energy audits and outlined external investment for energy efficiency and other green measures. The project looked to meet GAIA aims of engaging new sectors as active advocates of local actions for global development. At December, 2015 it had generated approximately £8,300 of net gain to centres that can be re-invested into local community infrastructure.
Using a pilot approach to test scalability, the initiative had environmental drivers of: reducing the city’s global footprint and waste (eg lost heat) and creating centres able to support environmental behaviour change and environmental literacy in neighbourhoods. It tested, as action research, energy efficiency as a driver for green business practice. Peer-to-peer support enabled individual management committees to develop and work together on practical new tools. An information pack containing learning, together with a number of easy-to-read guides was shared at a celebration event attended by 40 local community centres. Packs were then circulated to over 200 local community buildings and projects.
Community centres play an important role within neighbourhoods across Europe, but many state actors are unable to continue current levels of support due to national austerity cuts. In facilitating confidence building, this inquiry looked to support centres to take a greater role as local agents for environmental change; free to develop independently outside the council family and able to make the most of opportunities from devolution because going green saves you money. Support is also growing across the sector for a city-wide network sustaining peer support, learning and collective purchasing; all of which can only benefit local people. The inquiry is also interesting as it works not with individuals but looks to generate data and learning about organisations who have a potentially very powerful role in environmental behaviour change.
A process of co-production, working with a Core Group drawn from the centres, ensured ownership throughout the inquiry. It avoided delay and unnecessary bureaucracy in stimulating a new and tested appetite amongst a wider group of centres for a network that could carry on their work. GAIA provided a fulcrum for environmental sustainability and longevity to be actively discussed in complex times of austerity as state actors retrench.