When speaking to Dr. Rob Philips, he persuaded us to check the ‘Enter Tidy Street in Brighton’ project, as we mentioned that one of our aims is to do something interactive on the street that people want will find interesting.
The project entailed residents who volunteered for a new energy-saving initiative given electricity meters so they could monitor their daily energy use, and identify which devices are using the most power, and when.
For three weeks, they entered daily meter readings on tidystreet.org, to build up a picture of each household’s energy use.
Once people started measuring – 17 of the street’s 52 households signed up straight away – local street artist Snub was commissioned to paint the street’s average energy use against the Brighton average in a graph on the road outside their homes.
“It’s a great way to do it,” says Paul Clark, a software developer who has lived on Tidy Street for 10 years. “It engages people – passers-by often ask what it’s all about – and for those of us that live here, it’s something to be proud of.”
Open-source software designed specially for the project allows each household to compare their energy use not only with the Brighton average, but also with the national average or even that of other countries.
Involving the community was key to getting the project off the ground, says Jon Bird, the project co-ordinator and designer of the software.
“I went along to the residents’ annual street party last year, and explained what we were trying to do; that it was voluntary and that no one was trying to impose anything on anyone,” he says.
“Then it was a case of identifying the ‘champions’ in the street – those who were going to tell their neighbours about the project; those who were going to be doing the measuring in the individual households.”
Each household has chosen its own icon to mark the data points on the street and online graphs and residents’ input helps foster the sense they own the project.
Ruth Goodall, 70, who has lived on Tidy Street for 30 years, says she wasn’t interested in her electricity use before the initiative but measuring it every day has inspired her to change her behaviour. “I always used to fill up my kettle to the top but having seen how much extra power that uses I’m careful to just boil what I need,” she says.
Strikingly, over the three weeks the project has been running, the street’s average energy use has dropped by 15%, with some people cutting usage by as much as 30%. Much of this has been achieved by simple behavioural changes such as turning of lights and devices on standby.
“We are also looking at working with community groups based in the city, such as Brighton and Hove 10:10, to encourage other streets and organisations in the city, to start measuring their energy use,” says Bird, who has recently been approached by one school, keen to set up an electricity-use measuring project with its pupils.
Perhaps energy companies should take note. Next year sees the introduction of the “green deal”, a scheme whereby people can invest in energy efficiency improvements to their homes, community spaces and businesses at no upfront cost, instead paying through installments on their energy bills. Community engagement will be key to their ability to deliver the programme.
What do we take from this?
The project engaged people, how? It was different, so simple yet effective. Showing residents often private information that they could mutually compare. It involved them personally yet equally, if something effects someone, they’re likely to get involved. Also, people are nosy. As well as this, people felt united, like they were stating their information agreeably on their part of the street collectively.
The project ‘helps foster the sense they own the project’. I get the impression that residents started to feel ‘I am part of this street, these are my neighbours, we are a community, let’s compare prices and engage’. We want to create ‘feeling’ too. They went about it in a genius manner.
The team involved the community (i.e. the people living in that space). It was voluntary, no one was trying to impose. We should do the same for our street demo.
“Then it was a case of identifying the ‘champions’ in the street – those who were going to tell their neighbours about the project; those who were going to be doing the measuring in the individual households.” – The projects designers were strategic .They identified and predicted those that would be the catalyst in a chain reaction. We could do the same. Let’s think about this in more detail …
The project got people interested in stuff that they didn’t previously notice, care, or even think about in that context. This is the same for our project. Some people don’t think about Amnesty’s campaigns or real world issues in general, because they feel like a needle in a haystack. But actually, when people unite in masses, changes, i.e. laws, can be factually changed and corrected. It’s about making people realise the impact of things they wouldn’t necessarily think about. The Tidy Street Brighton project factually made a change! Statistically, the street’s average energy use has dropped by 15%, with some people cutting usage by as much as 30%.
So the Tidy Street project was energy based. However, we could follow similar strategies to create the same awareness in the context of Amnesty. Now, we just need a focus area i.e. refugees, hate crime after Brexit, racism between students etc.
Lastly, this article emphasises that utilising small community spaces to create community engagement is effective. As Rob suggested, it’s important that we choose our space wisely. We can only do this by researching and visiting a variety of spaces, recording how people use those spaces (do they walk through it, stop to sit, stop to read, use it as a short cut etc.), and whether they would stop to use a project like ours. We need to answer the old age question of how do we make something as engaging and interesting, as did the Brighton Tidy Street Energy project.