Building a foundation for sustainable communities across Scotland

By Giles Ruck, Foundation Scotland

With COP26 in mind, Foundation Scotland recognises that communities are often the most affected yet have the least power to make systems change. As Scotland’s community foundation, we have a responsibility to amplify the voice of communities. We keep that in mind through a multi-layered approach to our work. We must do so to remain supportive of all communities, at whatever their development stage.

We ask all leaders to recognise this too. That communities have immediate needs, the desire and the drive to be part of a system change to address root causes and not be passive recipients. Collaboration and engagement, finance on a local and national level, alongside the absolute necessity of seeing through national and global commitments, will make the difference to the community outcomes we must all see from this critical COP taking place in Scotland this autumn.

Within our work, we recognise the distinction between sticking plasters – fixing immediate damage, and system change – funding for a better future. Different needs and approaches require different resources.

Immediate needs. Financial capital is needed to fix immediate problems, such as repairing natural landscapes and habitats that restore biodiversity and prevent future flooding. These changes require willing community members at the grassroots level and partners with specific expertise. We partner with Zero Waste Scotland Energy Efficiency Business Support to support communities in making climate-smart choices, particularly when developing or refurbishing community buildings.

Working with Vattenfall, the renewable energy company, we developed the Unlock our Future Fund in Aberdeen/shire. The fund has supported multiple green transport initiatives, including purchasing electric cargo bikes, vans, electric cars, buses, and electric utility vehicles. In addition to replacing fossil-fuelled vehicles and supporting community groups to deliver their services in a less carbon-intensive way, the change has opened the door to learn about and pave the way to be confident in whole fleet change. Finding less carbon-intensive ways of transporting people and goods will be an essential element of Scotland’s journey to net zero.

The same fund has supported a coastal community, Newburgh, to transform the energy efficiency of their village hall. Energy-saving measures plus air source heat pumps, solar panels and batteries bring the hall as close to zero carbon as possible for a hall built in the 1800s. The community has seen improved energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions and costs, making the hall more financially sustainable. As well as the direct impact, the project led to the set-up of a local climate action group, inspiring a change in attitudes and knowledge more widely.

System change. And turning to systems change; this is a step-up. Change requires collaboration across and between communities. We work at the point of partnership, seeking to aggregate philanthropists and other funders with communities demonstrating vision and drive for significant change.

With the long-term and preventative spend approach in mind, we have partnered with the Wellbeing Economy Alliance in Scotland, drawing lessons together in how we work and re-focusing our theory of change. We recognise that raising finance for system change can be more difficult because there’s no quick wins or shiny photo opportunities at hand.

Through a new partnership with Crown Estate Scotland, we launched the Community Capacity Grants Programme. The programme’s priorities include sustainability and regeneration. One of the first grants awarded was to the Islay Energy Trust. A £40,000 grant will support the development of a Net Zero Energy vision and strategy across the islands of Islay, Jura and Colonsay. The islands rely heavily on imported fossil fuels and unreliable electricity supplies. Therefore, addressing climate change and decarbonisation on the islands is critical. A new community-led consultation will deliver the first draft of a 10-year vision, followed by a strategy for the islands.

This is an example of a whole community seeking change and working closely with community bodies and their local authority. Funding will pay for the project lead staff with the right community convening skills. Yet, it will be the combined belief and endeavour of all that engage and develop these communities’ vision that will bring about sustainable change. The community see that the project will be a platform to decarbonise energy supply on the islands addressing industry, principally whisky distilling, public sector and private domestic emissions.

Looking within. Foundation Scotland recognises climate change as a high-level risk to our investments, and therefore to our mission. We are addressing these risks and opportunities of a transition to a post-carbon economy in our investment strategy and its implementation, recognising that our decisions can contribute to achieving this transition. In response, we’ve launched an Impact Investment Fund, transferring our endowments from a traditional model to a sustainable one. This approach ensures the investments we hold will bring a social and ethical return as well as financial. Investments are made in companies that deliver a positive societal impact through their goods and services and business practices, such as supply chains and low carbon policies.

Long term. We’re committed to finding solutions that support Scotland’s communities visions long term. We currently facilitate 75 community benefit funds across Scotland on behalf of the renewable energy sector, collectively providing over £4.2 million annually to communities. Traditionally, a proportion of funds are distributed each year locally to support current community projects and activities. However, increasingly more communities are looking to invest their community benefit monies to provide a long term financial return, enable better planning for their communities future and provide capital for more ambitious projects that arise. By working with us to establish a Community Endowment, their funds are placed in our sustainable Impact Investment Fund and can be used for many generations to come.

Last month, the village of Kippen in Stirlingshire became the latest community to establish a Community Endowment. Using funds from the Falck Kingsburn Wind Farm Community Fund, the Kippen Community Trust has just made an initial investment of £20,000 after they identified the importance of setting aside some funding to provide a sustainable income for their community in the long term.

Whilst the appetite for Community Endowments is growing in Scotland’s rural communities thanks to funds available from local wind farms, there’s also an opportunity to develop endowments in other regions, including more urban communities, should sufficient capital be available. By working with local development trusts, local businesses and philanthropists, we aim to support communities of all sizes and locations to invest in sustainable Community Endowments. Thus, enabling greater decision-making and community planning opportunities, avoiding the ‘sticking plaster’ solution, and supporting system change.

By providing funding and investment into Scotland communities, whatever their location or development stage, we can support and empower local people to actively influence and develop their own climate-positive futures. Through this multi-layered approach, we can ‘act locally, think globally’. We ask all leaders to recognise this too.

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Anna Keremen, Communications F20 |

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