One of the things Transition can bring is the ability to turn ‘living with climate change’ into inspired and positive action. We asked Chris Rowland of Ouse Valley Energy Services Company (OVESCO) to tell us his story:
“The triggers which got me involved with Transition Town Lewes started with the 2000 flood in Lewes, a talk by James Lovelock about Gaia in Brighton and the TTL open space events, at which I met the future directors of OVESCO directors for the first time. Following those events I distinctly remember taking a call from Adrienne Campbell on the roof of a car park in central Birmingham, I was working as a design manager on several construction projects, including a shopping centre in Birmingham and at Terminal 5.
Adrienne asked when I could attend the next TTL meeting and something just switched in my brain saying the job I am doing is madness, its everything I don’t need, it takes me away from my family, has no connection with the place I live in, its working for carbon intense companies and my wife Suzanne said the stress was going to kill me! So right then I made the decision to give up my job, a company car, pension and what seemed like security, to work part time for OVESCO in Lewes to help deliver a microgeneration grant scheme for Lewes District Council.
My first day at OVESCO was wonderful, we opened a small office in Lewes, I also had a part time job as a designer for a Lewes NGO exhibition company and I had just completed a short Permaculture course run by Pippa Johns at the weekend. I have to give credit to the other OVESCO directors and especially Howard Johns, because he gave us the confidence to believe OVESCO could work and make a difference. Over the years we have learnt that you have to focus on building up a viable company.
The microgeneration grant scheme was the first step and is was Lewes District Council’s trust in or ability to deliver the grant scheme that paid for the office and my part time employment. In the first year we delivered all the grant funding, so the council ran the scheme again and by 2011 we had helped 250 homes install solar thermal, wood stove, heat pumps and PV systems.
[Here is a video by Chris Bird, of a visit to Lewes where Chris Rowland showed him various OVESCO projects]
We also offered a free energy advice service taking about 1000 calls up to 2011. In 2011 we raised our first share issue and raised over £400,000, which we invested in locally owned photovoltaic (PV) projects starting with 545 PV panels installed on the roof of the Haveys Brewery Dept in Lewes. Each step meant we were reducing carbon emissions, building local resilience and developing a decentralised energy supply.
There are dark moments when you see the potential effects of climate change such as flooding in the UK, forest fires in Australia or the spreading of malaria in Africa, it feels like you are just not doing enough to combat climate change, but it’s important to realise that as individuals we all have the ability to contribute to change by taking many steps. It’s also not enough to work on your own, so recently with the help of our new director Ollie Pendered, we have formed an umbrella groups in the South East called Community Energy South (CES.)
Using the Community Energy Peer Mentoring Fund (CEPMPF), OVESCO is helping up to twelve groups set up local energy coops in Sussex learning from the work we have already done. CES is there to support new emerging energy groups in Sussex and we are working with SESP and West Sussex County Council to grow energy groups in Sussex. CES are holding their first public talk at the Brighthelm on 18th March called ‘Power to the People’ and a second talk by Doug Parr from Greenpeace later in the year.
[Here is a short video introducing all the community groups who will be part of OVESCO’s peer mentoring scheme].
What next for me at OVESCO? I just want to see the growth of community energy and develop ways to supply direct the community. And OVESCO has been short listed for the 2014 Ashden Awards, which is fantastic, because Ashden supports grass roots initiatives from all around the world to help combat climate change and most of the projects are taking many small steps to make this happen.
When we started TTL in 2007 I thought we could do everything ourselves and it was that wonderful feeling of empowerment/excitement that got everyone together in Lewes. Over the years we have learnt that it is a combination of the community (TTL & OVESCO etc), working with their local authority (at Town, District and County levels) and guiding/lobbying Government for grant funding, but also the right incentives/support to scale up.
Finally I want to say thank you to Adrienne Campbell, because she helped me take my first steps. Ultimately you just have to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ and that’s my strategy for living with climate change.
[The attachment below is a wonderful ‘timeline’ of OVESCO since it began in 2007]