Following the extension of lockdown in the UK, south-west London community energy coop CREW Energy reflects on how it is adapting to the limitations of COVID-19, focusing on its long-term goal of promoting clean energy and a low-carbon London in the face of adversity.

CREW is lucky in that it has always been a remote working organisation. Aside from our workshops and community programmes, we only meet in person once a month. That said, we, like many others, have been hit by COVID-19 from various angles. For starters, we held our very first online AGM in March. While this may not seem like a bold move in the current Zoom wave, it was just the first (albeit symbolic) of many steps along our digital journey…

Community outreach

Perhaps one of the areas that was hit first and the hardest was our energy café programme consisting in weekly face-to-face energy advice sessions. These are usually held in local community centres and libraries to help people looking to reduce their carbon footprint, and those at risk of fuel poverty. Now that we are staying home with heating, lights and devices on for longer throughout the day – perhaps with reduced incomes – it is more important than ever that we help keep energy usage and bills down! Most notably those with a prepayment gas or electric meter, which must be topped up in person in a local shop or Post Office, need to know where and how to do so safely.

Hence, we are working to provide support in our newsletter, blog and on social media, sharing information with individuals and our community partners to raise awareness and diffuse information on how the coronavirus will impact utilities. Most of this information is readily available online, but it can be difficult to navigate or decipher. That’s where our trained advisors come in! We’re working remotely to set up phone and online consultations to providing relevant information to the individuals who need it most. We are also collaborating with local COVID-19 response organisations to help them understand the issues being faced, so they can equally identify those affected and get them in touch with us.

Transformation projects

Since many of our low-carbon technology suppliers are no longer able to assess and quote for installation, many of our existing and upcoming projects have been put on hold. Fortunately for a few projects in the pipeline, including the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, we are able to ‘repurpose’ our existing funding. For example, the funds we had allocated for our very first co-working office space have since been shifted to a Microsoft Teams subscription; time which would have been spent on training has, instead, been shifted to planning, documentation, reports, marketing and legal frameworks. When life gives you lemons… do admin!

Share offer

Arguably one of the most interesting challenges we have faced as an organisation is how to adapt our upcoming (and first ever) share offer to the crisis. We have contemplated various approaches adopted by our fellow community energy groups and, until now (and global state of ‘normality’ permitting) there has always been a very ‘hands-on’ approach, punctuated by events, market stalls and leafleting. COVID-19 has meant this traditional approach is far from our grasp and we must instead become more agile; what could be considered a roadblock may, in fact, be an exciting new trial! UK lockdown is an opportunity to launch a fully online share offer, getting in touch with our members and followers over the phone, hosting virtual ‘village halls’ and really focusing our campaign on harnessing the online community. Plus, what’s greener than reduced travel?

The situation will naturally become more difficult the longer this lockdown goes on. There’s only so much time we shift around and repurpose before we need in-person measures to progress. But, all things considered, we remain optimistic. In this hyper-connected world, we are incredibly fortunate to have the flexibility to do these things. CREW and, above all, community energy in general is responding robustly in response to COVID-19 and we have never been prouder to be a part of such a resilient bunch.