A sharing community: It takes a village

Communities are banding together for joint investments in everything from renewable energy to broadband services. Rosie Neve looks at the rise of collaborative consumption

The small village of St Briavels, home to a moated Norman castle, is a stone's throw from the remains of the 8th-century Offa's Dyke. It also boasts its own community-funded wind turbine. For while the Gloucestershire village lays claim to impressive historical monuments, it's also bang up to date when it comes to the modern mores of renewable energy and crowd-funding – as well as what is known as "the sharing economy".

The turbine stands in Great Dulkins Farm, home to farmer Anthony Cook, and has, with investment from Resilient Energy, provided the community with reduced energy bills and a community dividend of £15,000 a year. St Briavels is a home-grown example of the increasing interest in a sharing economy gaining ground in communities and with corporations.

The idea behind the sharing economy is that people pool resources, so that individuals get what they need, when they need it, and sell what they don't use. One high-profile example of the sharing economy in action is the accommodation site Air BNB, which lets homeowners rent out their properties when they're not at home. Another is Zipcar, the car-hire firm with a difference, which sees its rental cars passed from person to person (or "peer to peer" in the sharing parlance) as and when each customer needs a set of wheels.

A recent report by Zipcar UK highlights how Britons who are willing to embrace the sharing economy could collectively pocket £12.4bn in savings as well as becoming more actively involved in their communities.

This idea of "collaborative consumption" as a way of reinvigorating the economy is, in part at least, shared by the Government. In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced a 30 per cent tax relief for individuals who invest in social enterprises, to encourage more sharing. All very Big Society – except that the Prime Minister's former adviser Danny Kruger has this week accused the Government of allowing companies, rather than communities, to run public services. Big Business Society, anyone?

Still, St Briavels is reaping the benefits of its energetic approach to sharing. The village's 500kW unit, which can power up to 1,000 homes, profits everyone involved, with £8,000 raised from sales of surplus energy.

Andrew Clarke, the director of Resilient Energy, is amazed by the effects the project has had on the village. "There has been a huge change in the community – people are communicating more and there is a greater sense of social cohesion." Even before the 30 per cent tax break was mooted, other villages had been showing interest in launching similar schemes. Resilient Energy is about to start work on a wind turbine in a Devon village.

But it's not only turbines that are feeling the winds of change. Villages in Cambridgeshire were struggling with the fluctuating costs of oil, an energy source often overlooked by the Government in favour of more attention-grabbing fuels, so they formed a collective to bulk buy for several villages. Julie Weekes, of Cambridgeshire Acre, the rural community council for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, is the driving force behind the oil-sharing collective. She oversees volunteers in each village who collect orders and, according to Weekes, "check on vulnerable residents and help them check their tanks and make their order". With oil prices unpredictable and the minimum order per household costing £300, bulk-buying allows the community to take more control over their supply

The internet has been the catalyst for countless consumer collaborations, whether it's people pledging money on crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter or offering their skills on Twitter in return for others – you scratch my back, I'll bake you a birthday cake. But for the people of Alston Moor in Cumbria, it was the lack of internet that inspired the community to come together. Because the village didn't have fibre-optic broadband and had no prospect of getting it from any big-name suppliers, local companies were threatening to move their operations to better-connected sites, which could have led to hundreds of local people losing their jobs.

Cybermoor, the first co-operative broadband service in the UK, gave the community the opportunity to invest in the fibre optic that it had built. Residents were encouraged to chip in £100 each, and those who invested £1,000 received free broadband for a year. The project manager, Daniel Heery, says the development "relies heavily on the community to identify issues and help come up with solutions to improve the standard of life".

While it's easy to imagine that the sharing economy is just another snappy catchphrase, it seems genuinely to be catching on. Which is more that you can say for the Big Society…

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk