In 2007, the Totnes Renewable Energy Society was formed with the aim of developing renewable energy resources in the area to benefit Totnes’ local community.
With the support of a Charity Bank loan, it was able to add to its solar portfolio with the purchase of a solar installation on a local dairy farm, thereby generating sufficient income to cover running costs and to make a first modest interest payment to its members. Managing Director Ian Bright shares how Charity Bank’s timely intervention enabled the society to develop into the thriving community initiative it is today.
“In 2006, a group of us from the community got together to discuss possible ways to generate community owned renewable energy in our area. The Totnes Renewable Energy Society (TRESOC) was formed and we began exploring our first venture into wind energy, the most cost-effective and abundant source of renewable energy in the UK. We garnered significant support from the local community through the sale of our share offers. However, after identifying a site, negotiating with the landowner and our wind developer partner, preparing and submitting the proposal, the local authority ultimately turned down our application for planning.
“This was a pivotal moment for TRESOC. Wind farm development is costly, and it was a case of either folding or raising further funds to focus on our solar energy portfolio. I’m forever heartened and uplifted by the community’s trust in us; they chose to continue with the venture and we raised a further £260,000 through share sales to install 44 solar roofs with South Devon Rural Housing Association. However, we still needed additional funding to survive.
“Charity Bank’s intervention was a lifeline for us. The loan enabled us to expand our solar portfolio with a significant purchase of new solar capacity at Hatchlands Farm, generating an extra £20,000 annual income for the business and saving electricity costs for a local dairy farm. The additional cash flow from the Hatchlands acquisition has enabled us to cover operating costs and make our first modest interest payments to our members.
“We are a social enterprise and working with a social lender has been important to us. Mainstream banks are looking for existing models with proven outcomes and structures. Charity Bank is different and understands how we operate and the importance of the enduring impact we are trying to make.
“There is real community ownership of TRESOC, membership is open to everyone and yet 94% of our 549 members live within 10 miles of Totnes. Share values range from £20 through to five-figure sums but each member holds one vote, making for effective local democratic control. The community put their trust in the project and, with the help of Charity Bank, that has paid off. Not only are we having a positive impact on the environment, we are seeing a rising financial return and have been able to pay 2% interest on shares over the past two years.
“In the same way our members can see quite clearly where their investment is going and the good it’s doing, receiving a loan from Charity Bank and saving with them allows us to have that same assurance about our investments as a society. That’s why I would encourage anyone to invest in a social initiative; you get so much more back than just a financial return.”