Partnership working

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Partnership working can enable you to access a pool of different customers, supporters and volunteers, to share costs, to access new funding sources, and to have a bigger impact than you would otherwise have on your own. Scoping exercises may help you to identify possible individuals, groups or organisations to approach about the potential for working in partnership.

A great deal can be learnt from other community projects’ experiences of partnership working. Low Carbon West Oxford, a community-led initiative working to reduce its community’s carbon emissions in West Oxford, has developed a wide range of partnerships for different purposes. From their experience, the members of the management committee have built on Oxfam GB’s “Five Principles of Partnership” to produce their own partnership principles, outlined in their “Low Carbon Living: Power to Make it Possible” publication as follows:

  • Complementarity and added value – partnership working is most useful when different partners bring distinct and complementary contributions;
  • Clarity and respect for the different roles and contributions of government, council, private sector and communities – both monetary and non-monetary;
  • Upstream joint decision making – early discussions to develop co-ownership and consensus are better than belated consultation;
  • Mutual understanding and respect – about different roles and responsibilities;
  • Transparency and accountability – openness and honesty in working relationships and accountability to people and organisations not at the table;
  • Competence – including reliability and delivering on commitments;
  • Clarity about exit strategies –clarity about the length of involvement in the partnership, and plans for eventual withdrawal;
  • Early wins – help keep partnership members motivated.

These principles can be useful in helping you to identify suitable partnership opportunities, to develop appropriate partnership agreements and to guide how your partnership is organised and works in practice. The detail will depend on the precise nature of your project, who you are seeking to partner with and for what purpose.

Possible groups and organisations to consider working in partnership with include:

Local government. Local government is a vast source of local knowledge, with its fingers in many pies. It can be a potential source of funding, a delivery partner or simply somewhere to go for advice and guidance. Topics it could provide support on include the planning process and local policies on matters from waste disposal to housing and green spaces, or relevant community contacts across a range of sectors. Local government is also often a significant local landowner, perhaps holding sites that you could enquire about involving in your project.

Schools. Schools are hubs of the local community. They can be useful to work with to engage children and young families, for example if you wish to deliver an educational project that could tie into the national curriculum. Alternatively, schools can simply be a good place to find a handy in-kind venue or a useful channel for distributing some of your marketing material.

Universities. Universities can help you to engage young people and can provide a useful academic dimension to your project. You could perhaps develop a collaborative research study or involve staff or students in evaluating or analysing the impact of your project.

Community groups. Community groups pursuing social or environmental aims are likely to have similar values and objectives to your group. They can therefore be a good partner to collaborate with, providing additional resources to help set up, fundraise for, promote and deliver a project. Common groups to consider include those affiliated with the Transition Network, Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace. How you organise the partnership and allocate responsibilities is likely to determine how well you work together – establishing an entirely new joint group may be the best option.

Local businesses. Local businesses may be willing to support your project in-kind, through providing complementary or discounted products or services, or by sponsoring a particular event or project. The benefits of this are two-way: money saved and greater local connections for your project, and additional promotion and positive PR for the business! Support could come in the form of, for example, a monetary contribution, a free venue and refreshments, or legal or financial assistance.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Carbon Co-op’s activities are fairly narrow and targeted, specifically around energy efficiency and whole house retrofit, and as a consequence they have found that they need to work with other organisations and partners to be effective. They work with a wide range of other community and voluntary sector organisations which enables them to reach a wider audience and share effort and resources. Community media is particularly effective and they often visit community radio stations or write articles for blogs. Collaborations with local authorities have also been particularly useful. Due to budget cuts, Councils are increasingly limited in the scope and scale of what they can achieve. Many officers and Councillors are happy to work in collaboration with a community energy organisation that can be more flexible and access a wider range of funding than a statutory organisation. They have found that with all their all partnerships, careful discussion is required between the parties to understand shared priorities and identify areas for collaborations and to avoid misunderstandings or unnecessary duplication of activities. This approach reflects the sixth co-operative principle around networking and collaboration, which they are bound by as a Community Benefit Society.

Country: Ireland

Iona and District Resident's Association (IDRA) partnered with Codema, Dublin’s energy agency, to deliver an energy smart community project in the Glasnevin/ Drumcondra area of Dublin. Between 2009-2010, a very successful pilot Energy Smart Community was ran which allowed homeowners to join together with their local community to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, while availing of energy-saving grants from the Irish government. The principle behind this project was to bring homeowners together in a ‘cluster’ to help them save money on their overall energy bills while taking advantage of the environmental and social benefits for the community. The IDRA committee developed a very strong working relationship with Codema and helped the energy agency to spread the word about the scheme by providing local community connections and assisting with leaflet drops and the use of the Energy Smart Community logo on promotional material. The committee also invited Codema along to local meetings to help build trust with the local residents. IDRA further connected with and attendance the local parish and advised on key communication channels to advertise local meetings and events (parish newsletter, community websites, local paper, etc). During this pilot scheme, Codema also made valuable connections with the local bank and credit union; representatives attended local meetings to talk about ‘green’ financing options available to residents.

Country: UK

Brighton and Hove Energy Services Co-operative (BHESCo) ran a Pop Up Energy Shop in September 2014, working in partnership with National Energy Action, Citizens Advice Bureau and Hove Station Neighbourhoods Forum. This partnership strengthened their ability to engage with the community. Over the week, they gave impartial advice on reducing fuel bills by improving energy efficiency, switching energy supplier and fuel debt advice. More than 150 people visited the shop. 20 people brought in their energy bills, allowing BHESCo to explain their fuel tariffs. They saved an estimated £2,500 collectively for the people who switched energy supplier, ranging from £50 to £650 per household. Their partners were instrumental in helping them to realise the event. Hove Station Neighbourhoods Forum helped BHESCo secure an empty shop as a venue on the busy high street in Hove. Freegle, an online reuse service, was able to provide free use of discarded chairs and tables, reducing their costs and highlighting the importance of reuse. Volunteers from Transition Town Worthing and the Money Works team also helped them to improve their reach.

Country: UK

Energy Alton have worked in partnership with local authorities to deliver an insulation scheme and a community renewable energy initiative. In 2012 volunteers from Energy Alton, along with staff from the Insulate Hampshire team, a local government team with the same aims, combined to distribute over 4,500 rolls of loft insulation to more than 500 homeowners in the Alton area (population circa 16,000), saving over £27,000 in the first 12 months.  Energy Alton also negotiated with Amery Hill School to use their car park to receive the deliveries of insulation. The reward for the community for their collective effort was the offer of a 10kW solar PV installation on a community building in the area. They decided to install solar PV on the local library, requiring a Memorandum of Agreement between Energy Alton and Hampshire County Council. This was the first in Hampshire and probably unique in the UK for the agreement to share the Feed-In Tariff between a local authority and a community group. Feed-In Tariff payments of just over £1,300 per year will be shared equally between Energy Alton and Hampshire County Council to save on the annual library energy bill, and to support the projects and energy advice services offered by Energy Alton to the local community. They identify three factors that were key for making collaboration on the solar PV project work:

  • Doing their homework – nobody at the County Council knew about roof agreements – Energy Alton researched it first and had draft documents ready to discuss;
  • High level support – they lobbied the Chairman of the Council and the Executive Team, who then opened the doors for officers to sit down and talk to them;
  • Persistence – the project was low on the list of priorities (understandably) for people in the Council but Energy Alton kept plugging away. They had to change direction substantially mid-project but the end result was the same.
Country: France

Plaine Sud Energies’ project was to install solar panels on the roofs of schools. Being a collective project, it aimed to take into account all the stakeholders. Therefore, an educational project was developed in association with teaching staff at the schools in order to explain to the pupils how solar energy and the panels work. Energy is part of the school program. However, this topic is not always easy to cover. The project supplied a concrete example for teachers - for instance, the monitoring of the energy generated from the solar panels was a good reason to do mathematics exercises.