Burnfoot cluster

 

foodbankFund name: EDF Renewables Burnfoot Hill Wind Farm Community Fund (Clackmannanshire)
Current fund donor: EDF Renewables
Related renewable energy scheme: Burnfoot Hill Wind Farm, Burnfoot North Wind Farm, Rhodders Wind Farm
Annual fund value (per MW installed): Equivalent to £3,000 per MW
Annual fund value (2020 total): circa £67,000 per annum index linked
Year of fund commencement: 2011 (Burnfoot Hill); 2014 (Burnfoot North); 2015 (Rhodders)
Fund area of benefit: Alva, Dollar, Menstrie and Tillicoultry, Coalsnaughton & Devonside in Clackmannanshire – and Muckhart from 2021
Fund administrator: Foundation Scotland

Background 

The Hillfoots are a string of villages at the foot of the Ochil Hills in Clackmannanshire. They comprise Menstrie, Alva, Tillicoultry and Coalsnaughton and Devonside, and Dollar, and have a collective population of more than 11,000. With a shared industrial heritage of mining, brewing and textiles, the villages are also connected through the Hillfoots Diamond Jubilee Way walking route and Alva Academy, which is the area’s main comprehensive school. With a convenient mid-Scotland location and transport links, the wider area has a relatively significant manufacturing base for the drinks industry (brewing, yeast making and bottle making). Its attractive, accessible rural setting makes the Hillfoots a popular place to live for people working in Central Scotland and further afield. 

The villages have active community councils and a diverse range of other community groups providing a mix of services and support to local people and visitors. When the opportunity of a community benefit fund arrived, the community councils were keen to ensure that the fund could support the range of community-led activity across the area, despite it not being a hugely significant annual sum for the population it was serving. 

The EDF Renewables Burnfoot Hill Wind Farm Community Fund was established as a single shared resource across the communities rather than being split up per community. It was agreed that working together would help maximise its impact. For example, although each of the communities is quite distinct with its own identity, it was recognised that the fund might also accelerate opportunities for devising and delivering projects and services that are shared across and connect them. Central to arrangements was the establishment of a community panel, drawn from community council members and the wider community. The panel’s role is to advise fund administrator Foundation Scotland on fund strategy and spend.

In its ten years to date, the fund has helped forge stronger links between the communities. For example, an area asset register was set up so that equipment could be shared between groups, and a new youth-led organisation was established, serving young people across all the communities. The fund has also helped to build and unlock a wealth of community ambition and capacity in each of the communities it benefits. It has also helped to accelerate the development of anchor organisations (multi-purpose, community-run organisations) in three of four of them.

A growing appetite for community action planning 

Four years in, as the panel was getting to grips with the opportunities that the long-term community benefit income offers, there was some disappointment at the limited ambition shown in applications and projects.

Encouraged and supported by Foundation Scotland, and in consultation with the community councils, an increasingly empowered panel developed a targeted grant scheme for community events. This was in recognition of the value of investing longer term in the diverse calendar of local events that did so much to build and develop social connections within and between the communities. They also commissioned a study on services for young people in the area which resulted in the fund providing seed funding to establish a new organisation for the area’s young people, led by those young people. This body, Ochil Youth Community Improvement (OYCI), is now the recognised voice of young people in the area. At panel meetings, members shared updates on how their respective community councils and community groups were beginning to think about the merits of developing village action plans. In short, the panel was beginning to think and operate more strategically.

The timing was good in several ways. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 was given royal assent in summer 2015. A critical feature of the Act was the right for community bodies to make requests to take on land or buildings owned by local authorities and public bodies that they feel they can make better use of (known as community asset transfer). In parallel, communities were becoming concerned about Clackmannanshire’s Council’s plans to close or mothball various council-owned community facilities across the area in the face of ever-reducing budgets. The communities were beginning to galvanise.  

By this time, the Scottish Government’s Communities and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) had changed its funding criteria and was now able to support community action planning costs. Dollar, Menstrie and Tillicoultry were all supported with CARES grants to commission community action plans. 

Key outcomes and achievements

In the ten years since the fund started, three of the four communities have established anchor organisations that are growing in capacity and ambition and are now critical players in providing services and income for the community. This is a significant achievement which the fund helped create the conditions for.

Following completion of their action plan in 2016, Dollar established the Dollar Community Development Trust (DCDT) in 2017. Funding awarded from EDF Renewables Burnfoot Hill Wind Farm Community Fund assisted DCDT to employ its first member of staff and supported DCDT’s community asset transfer of the Civic Centre (since re-named the Hive).

“The fund was very convenient when we were establishing – initially we found that we were not a fit with national funders and had a few knockbacks. We used an award from our Community Fund to leverage in £10,000 in match funding which allowed us to employ a Community Development worker.” - Stephen Leitch, DCDT

In January 2019, DCDT secured a three-year lease over the premises, which now hosts a community library (following the permanent closure of the local council library). It is also a venue for events, parties, public meetings, and other community activities. The Hive has also been assessed for use as an emergency shelter and as a blood donation centre. Further developments are planned, including an electric bike station.

The fund has also provided a grant to DCDT to engage a consultant to flesh out other elements of the community action plan. Results of this review found that many of the priorities identified as part of the plan have been achieved by DCDT or other local groups. The next steps for DCDT includes consulting the community on establishing a Dollar Heritage Project, setting up a Destination Dollar working group and website to promote tourism, a proposal to expand parking, and a Keep Dollar Beautiful project.

Alva Development Trust (ADT) was established in September 2018 from a steering group set up by Alva Community Council. The group used a micro-grant from the fund to produce and distribute publicity material that helped bring people together who were interested in forming an anchor organisation for the town. 

“£250 was the difference between people knowing and people not knowing us.” - Mary Laing, ADT 

One of the motivations for establishing ADT was the need for a body that could own assets on behalf of the community. By October 2018, ADT had signed the lease to take over the running of the Cochrane Community Hall from the council and which ADT began to improve with grants from the fund. The hall was being used for a wide range of activities including parent and toddler groups and sports and exercise classes, as well as providing a venue for private events such as birthday parties and weddings. 

ADT had also been awarded costs towards a community development worker post. Because of COVID-19, however, some of the match funding for this role was repurposed to buy essential items and food to support vulnerable families during the pandemic. Acknowledging the importance of this role, ADT intends to reapply for funding towards this post once restrictions ease and the centre is able to open again. 

Since March 2020, ADT’s focus has been setting up and running a food bank that is open every afternoon for collections. Volunteers also deliver freshly prepared ready meals for vulnerable people and those who are self-isolating, helping around 430 families each month. ADT hopes to engage a community development worker to manage the Cochrane Community Hall. It has recently secured funding to convert the public toilet block within Cochrane Park and create a locker room, toilet and shower facilities, as well as a small coffee shop for walkers and cyclists taking advantage of local walking paths and adjacent hills. 

A Community Action Plan 2017-2022 for Menstrie was published in autumn 2017 after a five-month consultation period. Since its inception, Menstrie Community Action Group (MCAG) has focussed on realising the plan’s five priority themes. This includes overseeing the operation and management of Our Dumyat Centre which it is currently operating under a licence to occupy from Clackmannanshire Council, as they await the finalisation of a 25-year lease.

Menstrie community loungePrior to the March 2020 lockdown, the centre was visited by around 500 of the village’s 2,800 people every week. Programmes delivered at the centre include education through a community library service, an after-school club (50 primary age school children attend), senior citizens’ lunches, bingo nights, a youth group, an older adults’ group, and a parent and toddler group (including Book Bugs and gala activities). Councillors and MSPs hold surgeries within the centre too. The centre is available for private functions and events and is the only large indoor venue available in the village.

In May 2019, MCAG was awarded £5,000 from the fund to employ a part-time development worker to assist with the transition and operation of the Dumyat Centre. It received a further £5,000 in May 2020 to replace one boiler within Dumyat Community Centre as part of a larger project to replace the full heating system.

“The funding for the Development Officer post helped us survive the first six months. It also helped us to lever in additional funding.” - Jon Doig, MCAG

Each of these anchor organisations has had to attract people with the requisite skills and experience willing to sit on the board and guide the organisation, and they have all done so successfully. In every case this saw participation from people who were not already engaged in existing community activity. In Menstrie, for example, Jon Doig from MCAG said: “only one person came forward who was previously involved in the community council and the remainder of committee were new voices who were not involved in other activities.”

These new voices provided the energy and enthusiasm to drive the trusts forward. In some cases, such as in Dollar, motivated people, many of whom were not previously involved in community activity, formed the initial committee. In others, such as Alva, existing community volunteers came together and were later strengthened as new volunteers came forward in response to the increased profile and role of the trust as it began providing critical support to the community during the pandemic.

The model in use in the Tillicoultry, Coalsnaughton and Devonside Community Council area was different from the other three areas for two reasons. Firstly, the three main community halls (Coalsnaughton, Centenary and Devonvale Halls) have been operated successfully by the community due to previous budget cutbacks. Secondly, Clackmannanshire Council’s main administrative hub is the Ben Cleuch Centre in Tillicoultry. This is the hub for the whole of the Hillfoots and it has not yet been earmarked for asset transfer.

For these reasons, the community council is, in effect, the anchor organisation for the area. The community plan, produced with CARES support, along with the opportunity provided by the Burnfoot Hill Community Fund, has allowed the community council to develop a multi-facetted community response covering annual local events, management of public realm seating, bus shelters, flowerbeds and the creation of action groups to progress projects.

“The level, flexibility and continuity of the Burnfoot Hill funding has allowed us to encourage and support a wide range of community activity in our area.” - Ewart McAuslane, Tillicoultry, Coalsnaughton and Devonside Community Council.

The current community action plan recognises that future circumstances could give rise to the creation of a development trust which, if it were to happen, would mirror the model in other the Hillfoot communities.

Lessons learned 

With only a relatively modest annual sum available to distribute over a reasonably large population, the Burnfoot Hill Wind Farm Community Panel and Foundation Scotland have sought to create enabling conditions for local anchor organisations to develop and thrive. 

The fund has been an important catalyst in building the communities’ conviction that they themselves can make positive changes to their communities. Various factors drove the establishment of the anchor organisations in the Hillfoots, but the fund provided a common platform for the communities to begin thinking about their long-term future and was a critical source of financial backing in the early days. 

“The flexibility of the fund has been tremendous; a number of other funds have very restrictive criteria. We were told not to chase funding as this can take you off track... The fund was always there for us and is open and willing to listen to our needs.” - Jon Doig, MCAG 

As a fund administrator with a commitment to designing community benefit funds to be responsive and flexible to local needs and opportunities, Foundation Scotland’s guidance helped create an enabling and supportive environment for anchor organisations to grow, encouraging collaboration rather than competition between them.

“At the assessment stage, Foundation Scotland helped to scope out the project and came up with suggestions on how to develop or improve it”. - Mary Laing, ADT

“The Action Plan that Foundation Scotland helped us to create recommended that we should form a Development Trust.  This Action plan is still used as a basis for ongoing plans in Dollar.” - Stephen Leitch, DCDT

In addition, the panel asked Foundation Scotland to encourage the anchor organisations to share their learning with each other when they approached the fund for support with similar projects or activities. This kind of encouragement was at times included as a positive and enabling ‘condition of grant’, helping to create a climate of cooperation and support between the organisations.

Another key feature of success has been that, although the communities developed ambitious action plans, the panel was keen that the anchor organisations did not become dependent on the fund as their only or main source of funding. For example, the panel has kept the upper limit on grant awards proportionate to the overall value of the fund. In 2018, the maximum award was £5,000 and the panel decided to keep it at that. This may have been difficult to justify if the annual payment was significantly larger. However, the size of Burnfoot Hill Wind Farm Community Fund meant it was never going to be a major funder of any of the anchor organisations. As the anchor organisations have become established and begun delivering projects, this approach has helped set a tone and understanding that the fund is not simply an endless resource, nor a resource only for them. And, perhaps in part as a result, they have worked hard to begin securing income (including through trading) from other sources.

In each of the communities, the development trusts can access microgrants, which have been an important stimulus for community action. Micro grants, which are managed by the respective community councils, are an accessible way for the communities to secure smalls amount of funding on a regular basis. The initial microgrant awarded to ADT enabled it to print business cards, allowing it to promote its work and build its membership, which turned the idea of a development trust for Alva into a reality.

In some community benefit arrangements, the decision-making group are reluctant to invest in using funds to support the core costs of organisations, for example, for staff salaries. The Burnfoot Panel recognised the value of investing in paid support for anchor organisations and supported initial development officer costs for two of the trusts which enabled critical early work to be taken forward. This meant the communities saw tangible results and this helped build confidence and credibility.

“Once the initial development worker was in post, support from the community and external agencies grew. The funding was important to bring in the development worker; but psychologically it also helped us - once we got that initial funding, we felt more confident. Before the appointment, the full operational impact of managing the centre fell fully on a Volunteer Board… having a person in this role meant ideas were advanced and they played a key role in enabling us to not only survive… but start to thrive, attracting new users.” - Jon Doig, MCAG

Related for DCDT, the panel was willing to support consultant costs to progress further development work.  Securing that award meant that DCDT gained additional capacity and expertise to review the community action plan and has now identified the next feasible priorities that will go out for wider community consultation.

As communities grow in confidence and ambition, it is common that more ambitious projects will follow. Within the Burnfoot Community Fund arrangement it has been helpful to have the combination of a third-party administrator providing independent assessments of proposals with a local decision-making panel being at the heart of decision making over fund distribution. This has helped ensure decisions remain fair and proportionate and the third-party administrator has helped manage conflicts of interest (for example, where a panel member may also be a director of an anchor organisation).

Conclusion

In 2020, Clackmannanshire was one five areas to benefit from the Scottish Government’s support for local authorities to deliver Community Wealth Building Action Plans.

Community wealth building is a people-centred approach to local economic development. It seeks to reorganise local economies to be fairer and aims to avoid wealth flowing out of communities by helping investments and assets in the area to generate more and better opportunities (jobs and services) for local residents and businesses. It is a practical way to support the delivery of an economy centred on the ambitions of local people.*

The concept and practice of community wealth building can be seen in practice in Burnfoot Hill Wind Farm Community Fund, which for the last ten years has helped give shape to and galvanise local ambition and contribute to ‘hyper-local’ wealth building. This has been through the creation of a succession of development officer posts, the acquisition of assets by the community and the development of a range of community services. As the scale of the annual fund is set to increase with additional income from a fourth wind-fam in the Burnfoot Cluster, the panel, community councils and Foundation Scotland look forward to exploring the synergy between the local authority’s own community wealth building initiative and the fund’s home-grown community wealth building activities.

* The five pillars of community wealth building, from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies:

  • Progressive Procurement – developing local supply chains of businesses likely to support local employment and retain wealth within communities.
  • Fair Employment and Just Labour Markets– Using anchor institutions to invest in and the improve prospects of local people.
  • Shared Ownership of the Local Economy– supporting and growing business models that are more likely to support the local economy.
  • Socially Just Use of Land and Property– reviewing the purpose and ownership of local assets held by anchor organisations, to maximise their benefit and use for communities.
  • Making Financial Power work for Local Places– increase flows of investment within local economies by harnessing and recirculating the wealth that exists.