Case StudyPlymouth, UK

Plymouth is a city of 260,000 inhabitants in the county of Devon, Southwest England. Located where the Rivers Tamar and Plym flow into the sea; the city has long been one of the country’s most important ports. In recent decades, the city has faced a number of challenges: declining productivity, falling wages, and increasing poverty and inequality. The dockyard that once employed tens of thousands of people is now much depleted, employing just 2,500. Citizens have experienced erosion of economic stability, exacerbated by a social services sector reeling from cuts in public spending. Mental health problems have worsened through greater pressure-and less support for- individuals, and areas like Devonport exhibit a child poverty rate of up to 40%.

These problems also mirror the 14.1% (up to 35.2% in some districts) of Plymouth residents living in fuel poverty – meaning that if they were to heat their homes properly, it would cost them more than 10% of their income. Fuel poverty has been clearly linked to mental and physical health problems, as people have to make the hard decision whether to eat or to heat. Fuelled by rising energy prices and substandard housing, residents must make a choice between the misery of living in cold and damp homes, or building up an unpayable debt; one of a variety of factors that are contributing to higher suicide rates in the city.

To tackle climate change and fight fuel poverty, Plymouth City Council worked in collaboration with the local community to establish the Plymouth Energy Community (PEC). This organization, owned by the community and run for the community, seeks to increase local ownership of energy infrastructure and undertakes projects to support households that are excluded from the energy system through fuel poverty. PEC operates through a mix of community share funding, grants and external loans, with any profits flowing back into the community. Plymouth has become a true pioneer in the municipal energy transition, specifically in how local authorities can work with and nurture community efforts to improve energy efficiency and address social issues. Most importantly, PEC encourages residents to take charge of building a just city fit for future needs.

Justin Bear joined the Plymouth Energy Community team in September 2017. He coordinates PEC’s energy team to install simple energy efficient measures and provide advice. He also works behind the scenes to develop new opportunities. Justin also represented Plymouth in our mPOWER Exchange programme. The following is a recording of the 15 minute presentation Justin gave to the attendees of the mPower Digital: Best Energy Transition Practices, which ran three times between April 2020 and May 2021. Justin gives an overview of how Plymouth municipality and PEC have been concretely and jointly fighting energy poverty.

The second video explores how to develop a person approached practice to fighting energy poverty.

Further reading:

More information about Plymouth Energy Community on their website