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Why nurturing relationships is key to successful community engagement at RES

by RES | Nov 08, 2020 | Reading time: 5 min

At RES, we are committed to working closely with the local communities in each of the locations in which we operate, so having part of our team dedicated to ongoing communications with stakeholder groups allows us to build and maintain long-term relationships locally. Here we speak to Carey Green, RES’ Community Liaison Officer, based in Truro.

As a Community Liaison Officer, Carey’s role involves supporting community and public relations throughout all phases of a project’s life – development and planning, construction, and the long-term operational phase.

Carey’s role has expanded over the years – having previously worked for REG Power Management for 13 years before RES acquired the company in 2019.

A day in the life

“A day in the life typically depends on what’s going on at the time, that could be planning a public exhibition for a project in development, speaking to a local resident about turbine deliveries scheduled for a wind farm in construction, or speaking to a community fund administrator about their progress distributing grants.” Carey says.

With 60 community funds distributing in excess of £3 million per annum, to keep on top of, Carey’s role of ongoing management of the portfolio keeps her busy. For projects within the development phase, Carey’s role could be liaising with a project neighbour, speaking to local politicians, updating websites ahead of submission and wider engagement with the local community.

In the construction phase, she is often involved in ongoing dialogue with communities through liaison groups which are set up in the development phase and continue until completion. When a project is in its very early stages, RES identifies the community or parish councils – depending on region – ward councillors and other stakeholders, and the community liaison groups are born from that. Typically, there are representatives from all key stakeholder groups, and then the groups are managed by Carey, or her colleagues in the community relations team.

Something Carey is looking forward to getting back to when restrictions are eased, is visiting RES sites across the UK and Ireland to attend community meetings and continue building relationships with local people close to the projects.

Adapting roles

Like many people, Carey has had to adapt to a changing role during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Carey adds“One thing that has struck me is how well the whole of RES has adapted to working remotely and still continuing to provide value for our clients.

“On one of our new projects, Blary Hill, we were due to hold a meet the buyer event, which had to be postponed. We knew that it needed to be held, and we decided to figure out a virtual format for this.”

A meet the buyer event is normally held when RES is embarking on a new construction project. It brings together local companies to meet RES and the main civils contractor to discuss their capabilities and opportunities that exist. The aim is to increase RES’ knowledge of skills and services of the companies locally, allowing them to use as many of the local contracts for work on the site as possible, helping the local economy.

Our first ‘virtual’ meet the buyer for Blary Hill event took place on 16 July. Companies from a variety of trades attended, from plant hire and civils contractors to accommodation and cleaning companies.

“It was more successful than we could have imagined – we had to organise a spillover day because so many companies registered their interest”, Carey added.

Helping local communities

In the early days as lockdown was rolled out, Carey and her team sat down to discuss what additional support the community funds could provide in response to Covid-19. The first initiative which was almost immediately implemented was offering RES’ videoconferencing platform to all fund administrators and panel members so they could continue to hold meetings. Then, the team approached clients who have community funds across RES’ portfolio and suggested a relaxation of governance (which often has specifications on capital spend and location), to give flexibility for funds to help those most in need.

This had a positive response from the community groups and the clients who were really supportive, and the collective teams worked towards a common goal – supporting the local communities during a tough time.

Emergency funding for the crisis has come from a variety of sources and companies, but the team at RES recognised the need for funding to guide local communities through the recovery phase, so developed ways that they could accommodate this.

Carey added: “We are also managing a Covid recovery fund for a client. We are in the process of researching where this money is best placed in order to help support local communities in the recovery phase, in addition to community benefit funds sometimes already in place.”

One of the things that stands out to Carey is that some of the community funding awards which can be relatively small sums, but they can make a huge impact, especially for smaller groups and associations that are the bedrock of their community.

Inspiring the next generation of renewable colleagues

A big part of Carey’s work, and one which she greatly values, is working with schools, colleges and universities to teach young people about the renewable energy industry.

“My colleagues at RES and our clients are keen on sites being used as an educational resource. There is so much for young people to learn about the future of renewables just by being on site and speaking to us, so we do this as often as possible.”

Carey added: “It is amazing how many of the young people we speak to are clued up on climate change and the importance of renewable energy. We speak to so many students who become really interested in renewables, and it is a great feeling to think that we may have inspired them to be the wind or solar engineers of the future.”

RES has established relationships with education providers in many of its locations, working with primary school children to university students. Site visits involve a tour of the area, learning about the background of the industry, and looking inside wind turbines to learn about how they operate.

And in the Truro office where Carey is based, the nearby Exeter University has a dedicated renewable energy course. Every year, RES hosts freshers on the course at one of the wind farms.

Again, Carey demonstrated the ability to adapt when in January 2020 poor weather meant that a site visit to the Pen Bryn Oer Wind Farm was postponed. Instead Carey and a colleague went into the school to give a talk and demonstration to the students.

The future of renewables

When asked how she thinks her role will change with the renewables industry over the next few yearsCarey responded: “Community relations is just that – building and maintaining relationships. It is a vital part of what we do. Wind or solar farms are in the community for a long time, so it is important we work with each of the local communities, to build strong relationships, then maintain them by listening to each other, and give as many opportunities and support to that community that we can.

“As our portfolio grows, so will the number of communities that we support, and we’re looking forward to meeting and enriching these communities in the future.”

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