A groundbreaking environmental initiative which promises to help boost energy resources in rural areas has been unveiled at a major conference in Ludlow.
The Rural Regeneration Zone, which was set up by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands to tackle economic, regeneration and social inclusion in Herefordshire, Shropshire and parts of Worcestershire, used the event to launch Co-operative FiRE, a £780,000 rolling fund to encourage communities to develop renewable energy schemes.
Delivered by community energy experts Energy4All, the programme will provide significant investment to support the planning stages of new social enterprises that are committed to developing energy solutions for their villages and market towns. This could involve initiatives in wind energy, hydropower, anaerobic digestion and biomass fields.
“This is all about giving communities the opportunity to drive the agenda and the overall idea is that these co-ops will be able to re-invest part of their profits on delivering new projects,” Peter Pawsey, executive chair of the RRZ, told more than 200 delegates. This requires cutting edge thinking and strong leadership from everyone involved to make it work. There are no guarantees, but if we can make this happen it will leave a legacy for future generations.”
Nearly £12 million was invested by Advantage West Midlands through the Zone in 07/08 and this helped to create and safeguard hundreds of new jobs, supported new and established businesses and crucially gave local people access to essential community facilities and training opportunities.
The funding, combined with the buy-in of local and strategic partners, made the last year the most successful yet.
Mr Pawsey said: “We have seen real progress in all our main investment frameworks, which includes the launch of the first Enterprise Centre Network in Leominster, two new multi-use community facilities at Dorrington and Craven Arms, the supply of high quality serviced land and a £1.5 million boost to encourage Economic Inclusion in the Zone. The success of last year fills me with justifiable pride, but this is the start and we have a long way to go before we reach our ultimate aims and objectives. Therefore, I make no apologies for demanding more from partners, the local communities and more importantly the private sector.”
The future was a key theme of the conference, with Lorraine Holmes, former chief executive of Business Link in the West Midlands and Mick Laverty, chief executive of Advantage West Midlands, both urging delegates to embrace the opportunities whilst overcoming the challenges of Empty Building Rates and the current credit crunch.
They both stressed the need to build on the growth in enterprise and home working, not to mention the importance of working with the private sector to leverage investment, investment that stood at an impressive £8.1m last year.
Mr Laverty said: “Regeneration Zones, from the very outset, were an ambitious and innovative response to tackling unique economic and regeneration issues in some of the most isolated parts of our region.
“I am delighted to say that the Rural Regeneration Zone has lived up to this billing and helped our rural areas play a major role in supporting the region’s efforts to tackle underperformance in innovation and enterprise, as well as building on our excellence in environmental technologies, tourism and food and drink.”