Lambeth Community Solar not only works to combat the climate crisis and improve the quality of life for local people, it also empowers individuals and gives them the opportunity to develop crucial skills.
When 31-year-old Masharof Ahmed lost his job in a bike shop during the Covid-19 pandemic, he set about looking for ways to pursue his ideal career.
“I’d just finished a master’s degree in international health and development,” he says. “In my thesis, I’d explored how a climate refugee crisis is on the horizon, due to the climate emergency. So I was looking to work with a charity to do with migration, helping asylum seekers or climate change.”
He came across Lambeth Community Solar (LCS) – a green energy co-op that’s part of Repowering London, a not-for-profit organisation that empowers communities to fund, install and manage their own renewable, local energy.
Lambeth Community Solar works to make Lambeth a greener, fairer place to live by fitting community-owned solar panels on local buildings.
Young people have really good ideas and co-ops are a good place to share them. The way co-ops work makes them naturally open to ideas and feedback. It’s a great way to grow and learn.
– Masharof Ahmed, Lambeth Community Solar
The co-op has installed solar arrays (a group of solar panels) on a number of schools and currently has projects with Brixton Brewery and several Royal Mail offices in Lambeth. It raises the funds for the panels via community share offers, attracting investment from local people.
It then sells the cheaper, cleaner energy to the building and offers a return to investors. “The money from the sale of electricity goes into a community pot for the whole of Lambeth,” Mash explains. “This pot helps schools with energy bills and funds community projects, including creating activities for marginalised groups.”
Mash became a volunteer director of the co-op and has gained many valuable skills and experience in the 18 months he’s been in the role.
“As a director, I’ve been able to experience the internal workings of an organisation that’s benefitting a community. I’m involved in decision making and have a vote in important decisions. For example, I vote on accepting share offers and go forwarding with projects. So I’ve had to think about how my vote would impact Lambeth.
“I’ve also developed my organisation and planning skills. My previous job didn’t give me the opportunity to do that.”
Lambeth Community Solar have installed arrays on a number of local schools.
Mash’s other volunteering activities include promoting the co-op via social media and helping facilitate events where LCS goes into the community to spread the word about their activities, talk to potential donors and create interest in solar energy.
“I was also given the opportunity to do research for a Repowering London project in Kensington,” he says. “This was looking at how community energy can benefit the community in Chelsea; what the air quality and pollution levels are doing to marginalised communities there and how community energy can make life more equitable for people and more economically viable.”
Thanks to everything he’s done with LCS, Mash recently landed a role as a support relations assistant for Friends of the Earth.
“I do think my experience with Lambeth Community Solar helped me get that job. The things I’ve learned from working as a director and the research project gave me some new perspectives and ideas that I put across in the interview.”
For Mash, being in a co-op like LCS has other advantages too. “Young people have really good ideas and co-ops are a good place to share them. The way co-ops work makes them naturally open to ideas and feedback. It’s a great way to grow and learn. And it’s a good opportunity to network.
“LCS has also been really good at reaching people who are not typically considered to be climate activists – black and brown men and women. Their recruitment processes encourage diversity and they go out and look for people in marginalised communities.
“You don’t typically see people like me involved in the climate justice movement, but now climate change is more of a hot topic, we’ll see more minorities. It’s good to get representation, because people from marginalised communities are often the ones most affected by climate change.”