Plugging in for charity

This blog first appeared on E-Car Club’s website http://www.e-carclub.org

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In Harbury village you will find one of E-Car Club’s smallest hubs. Nestled behind our community run library and cafe, two Renault Zoes wait for users. They don’t have to wait too long because Harbury Energy Initiative, which won a competitive grant in 2014 from the Department for Transport’s Developing Car Clubs in England fund to work with E-Car in creating the hub, has found a special use for the cars. One of the elements of our proposal was the provision of social benefit with the cars.

I have to admit that we had a rather unformed idea of what this would be. Initially we thought that the Food Banks might need some support. However, after a lot of talking and swapping ideas and taking advice we created a free transport service with a much wider reach. Harbury e-Wheels emerged from this and is now a separate organisation with its own board. In essence we hire the two E-Car Zoes at a special subsidised rate to provide free green transport to people in need, whether financial, physical or social. In some cases this means helping elderly people to break out of housebound isolation by taking them to social meeting places such as a Dementia cafe or informal lunch organised by one of the surgeries nearby. Our passengers are by no means all elderly, however. For others it means being able to attend emergency housing interviews, doctor, dentist and hospital appointments or other vital meetings that would otherwise be beyond their reach financially. All passengers are referred to us by officially recognised agencies, such as the NHS, surgeries, churches, food banks, Children’s Centres, local Citizens Advice Bureau and AgeUK.

There are three main factors in our success at delivering this unique free EV service. The first is the support of E-Car Club, who from the start appreciated what we wanted to achieve. The second is our fantastic group of volunteers. We have 9 volunteer drivers and 6 volunteer coordinators, who between them so far have arranged about 480 hours of free transport since November 2015. The final factor is, of course, funding. Initially we had the support of Big60Million, the solar installation company, who have a solar farm nearby, through a start-up grant of £1000. E-Car offered free membership to the volunteer drivers and a reduced hourly hire rate. A further £1000 came from Community Energy Warwickshire through the Heart of England Community Foundation. This support was essential in giving us the time to plan ahead. Money, like fuel, gets used up.

I spent a lot of time applying unsuccessfully to big grant foundations before being directed to the Together for the Community Fund from the Coventry C of E Diocese. They happily gave us £2000 just in time to enable us to complete our transition to a separate constituted group with a board, bank account and donor programme. Divine providence, indeed! The donor programme won’t be launched till we complete our gift aid application to HMRC.

Applying for grants is time-consuming and can be disheartening. You fail more often than you succeed. We needed to find our own way of earning revenue. We needed AN EVENT, something bold and attractive to engage people. We found local professional explorer Mark Wood, who has completed expeditions to both Poles, climbed Everest, been to most of the extreme environments on the globe, and even completed back to back solo unsupported expeditions to the South and North Poles. Not a wimp, therefore. He uses these expeditions to educate people about the real effects of climate change, connecting with schools whilst on expedition to show directly them what he is experiencing. His most recent expedition was to the North Pole with two others. The ice was in such an unstable condition that it became an extremely dangerous and complex expedition.

We asked Mark to come and speak in the village, which he did willingly and without charge in order to support Harbury e-Wheels, calling his talk ‘My Life in a Freezer’. We raised around £1,800 from his chills and thrills, some of which we gave to his favoured charity Hire a Hero. Combined with donations from Southam Rotary 2000, a coffee morning, and other smaller contributions, this puts us on a much more secure footing. That’s the way we intend it to stay. This project is just too valuable to the community to lose.

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