Robert Owen Community Banking Fund (ROCBF), a Powys-based “responsible” finance provider which, through lending £1m to community environmental schemes across Wales has unlocked at least £14m of new income into some of the country’s poorest areas, has scooped top UK honours from an international foundation.
The 12-year-old firm, founded to support the principles of fairness, accountability and cooperation, was described as exemplary in the UK in terms of its environmental, economic and social impacts for communities, businesses, and individuals.
Over the past three years ROCBF’s Community Banking Fund, which targets the lowest income, highest risk areas of Wales where people want to develop community energy schemes, has loaned £957,000 to 25 pilot schemes, 20 of which have gone on to development.
That £1m levered £17m of construction investment in Wales and created several new “community benefit” societies which are now paying dividends to local members plus hundreds of thousands of pounds for local good causes – adding up to at least £14m of income for Welsh communities.
The community energy schemes operating thanks to ROCBF generate around 17 GigaWattHours of energy per annum – enough to power 5500 homes and saving almost 6m tonnes of CO2 emissions per month compared with the standard UK electricity generation mix.
That benefits the communities, generating income in some of the most deprived parts of Wales. It also benefits electricity users such as schools and low income households (many of whom had been experiencing fuel poverty), who, by buying directly, pay less than for electricity supplied through the national grid.
This week an international foundation and the UK’s “responsible finance” body named ROCBF winner of the Impact Award in the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards 2018.
ROCBF also supports the domestic renewable energy market in Mid-Wales, where there are still high levels of hard to heat housing and fuel poverty. ROCBF manages a revolving loan fund for Powys County Council providing 0% interest loans of an average size of £4.5k over 5 years – which has boosted take up of domestic solar to the highest per capita in the country. This has reduced Powys’ carbon footprint; reduced householders’ fuel costs; and has directly resulted in business and job creation.
Judges praised ROCBF saying it's work is creating and sustaining vibrant economies in Wales and has directly contributed to world-class innovation in environmental technology and community ownership of energy schemes.
The Awards ceremony in Glasgow on 20th March was part of the Responsible Finance 2018 conference at which actor and activist Michael Sheen launched the End High Cost Credit Alliance and pledged support and resources for “fair finance” providers such as ROCB.
After learning of winning the Award – which alongside recognition involves a cash prize of £20,000 – ROCBF’s Mick Brown commented:
“We’re thrilled that judges recognised our positive environmental impact. Our key driver is the imperative around climate change and we have demonstrated how you can be focused on that key objective but still deliver strong social outputs, generate a surplus and grow the company – we’ve grown tenfold over the past seven years.
“The prize fund will make an enormous difference to our small organisation. We’ve been working out how we may roll out a new fuel poverty programme and this might help tip the balance.
“It’s great to have the recognition of winning a UK award and for our work in Wales to be seen as exemplary at a national level. We hope this recognition and our already significant record of delivering carbon reduction schemes and working as a partner to parts of the public sector will open more doors with Welsh Government and local authorities.”
Delivered in partnership by Responsible Finance and the Citi Foundation, the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards celebrate the responsible finance sector and its contribution to local economies.
Responsible Finance providers are a crucial part of the UK’s financial sector, supporting thousands of individuals every year, and are the leading financial institutions offering affordable finance to many small and micro enterprises.
“ROCBF and the other winners in this year’s Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards are offering vital products and services to their local communities,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development.