(This is a translation of the original case study in Welsh)
The MaesNi project in Bangor is an excellent example of a project that thrives when collaboration happens. This is a project with a substantial amount of funding – £1 million over 10 years – thanks to the Building Communities Trust’s Local Investment Scheme, to be used for the community on the Maesgeirchen estate and Tan y Bryn (Marchog ward). There are numerous agencies and organistions offering support in a variety of ways. Here’s the story……
The scheme began in 2015 when a group of local people (the steering group) spoke to the residents to see what skills and strengths the community possessed already. They needed to decide how to move forward and therefore started planning and presenting ideas, activities and projects that would, in their opinion, help to improve the area and the lives of the residents. The consultation work still goes on and is a mixture of formal and informal consultation, and it also happens as the workers develop the community and the environmental projects and encourage the residents and groups to bring their ideas to life. They have a strong and dynamic scheme that changes as is needed – the steering group meets monthly, with some residents meeting weekly to plan the work. Having regular events is a way of continuing conversations and for residents to continue to influence what’s happening.
As a result of this, there is a true feeling of ownership of the events and the projects that are held there. From an open-air cinema, fun days, and trips away to establishments (‘Hive Caffi’ and the environmental group) to projects that need infrastructure and detailed planning, like the new playing field, community garden and the new community centre. Each one of these has been requested by the residents, they are the ones that mostly lead or shape the things that the workers ‘achieve’.
The group has a relatively good understanding of climate change issues as a part of the development process of their community, as they had an environmental worker for a period that helped establish some of the early pilot scheme – the cafe, the community garden, vegetable box scheme and family cooking events. Unfortunately, Covid has meant that not much has been able to happen face to face for over a year (although some activities have moved online). Despite this, the fruit and veg scheme and the Covid support (safety and food availability and so on) has started anew. As well as children’s groups like ‘Letters Grow’ and ‘Showzone’. More than anything, they want to build a multipurpose centre for the community in a sustainable way, one that will be suitable for generations to come (50% of the original money has been allocated for this purpose with an extra £500,00 from Gwynedd Council added).
The group came to the attention of Renew Wales at the end of 2019 through the coordinator Grant Peisley and then Jackie Lewis. The Community Development Worker, Jess Silvester, was keen to take advantage of what Renew Wales had to offer with the mentor experience, but also to be in contact with other similar communities and places so that they could learn from one another. They had numerous ideas of what they wanted to do, for example conserve energy in community buildings, reducing their carbon footprint by using solar energy to power charging points for electric cars and bikes, promote biodiversity and planting projects, and recycling and up-cycling projects to name but a few.
In the end, they asked Renew Wales for support with four elements: transport and electric bikes, community energy, development of the community centre and the community garden.
They have met online with the mentor Beth Ward who had helped them run a bike/e-bike workshop in November 2020 with plans to run a ‘Bike Dr’ programme and further courses once they can meet face to face again.
When looking at energy the group has, and continues to, receive support from DEG (Rural Energy Developments), Welsh Government Energy Service and Cyd Ynni for energy considerations in the new community centre and for electric vehicles. Sustainable Communities Wales have carried out a survey of Eglwys y Groes (that has an annual energy spend of £1,650) and have recommended a possible 58% reduction in energy costs with measures such as a new boiler and equipment to control the temperature in different areas, changing some of the lighting and insulating the loft space. Talks are also continuing (following a report on the possibility of wind and solar power) to look at opportunities for a community energy scheme and money to carry out a full feasibility audit. To support them to transfer a piece of land in the community for the ‘Growing for Change’ growing/gardening project, Lizzie Wynn, another Renew Wales mentor, put the group in touch with Lucie Taylor from the Community Land Advisory Service (CLAS)/Social Farms and Gardens.
Jess explains the advantages of coming to Renew Wales for support:
“Their support has been extremely valuable. We understand what we, as a community, would like to see happening here in terms of sustainability. But we had no experience in understanding what it took to start some of the more ambitious projects. Having access to expertise and friendly advice from people who have the experience has been fantastic and it has allowed us to take bigger steps on the path to becoming a sustainable community much sooner.”
Jess has recently been sharing the experience of the group as she contributed to an Eden Project UK Communities event on communities tackling climate change. She had a great reaction to her presentation, with a number commenting on how much they have managed to accomplish there.
Looking at the wider picture, Gwen Thirsk, an Invest Local Officer says;
“Maesgeirchen and Tan y Bryn are one of the 13 areas in Wales who are part of the Invest Local Scheme. One key aim is of the scheme is to support the areas to create ‘things’ that will continue beyond this 10-year programme, and so sustainability is a very important element of many of the local plans. As a result, having access to advice from Renew Wales is very valuable to the communities we are supporting.”
MaesNi has anchored itself into the community and looks very strong as they move into the future and try to achieve residents’ aspirations for a more prosperous and sustainable future.