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Member of the Month: Porty Community Energy

Hazel Darwin-Clements is a volunteer member of SCCAN’s Story Circle and also undertakes some amazing work with SCCAN member Porty Community Energy. Hazel shines spotlight on the brilliant work of Porty Community Energy  in this Member of the Month blog. 

Tell us about your community group. 

A man is riding a bike with two children in a basket at the front. They are all laughing.
Bikefest by Jon Davey

We focus on two biggies: Transport and Home Energy. We try to encourage people in Portobello to use less carbon and share resources. We champion the solutions and do it with joy and creativity.

People locally know us for the Bike Library and Active Travel Hub on the Promenade. If you visit then one of our volunteers can help you borrow a Cargo Bike or an eBike, sign up for some training or find out more about the Peer-to-Peer Car club. They might also invite you to some Retrofit workshops and tell you about our ideas for setting up a Community Solar Bonds Scheme. Before you know what’s happened you could find yourself roped into helping with one of our events or festivals.

What inspired you to take your first step into community climate action? 

The organisation was started by a small group of amazing local women who wanted local community action responding to a climate emergency. I was drawn to their energy of “let’s not wait for someone else to make this happen, let’s do what we can, where we stand.” My individual actions felt insignificant and influencing top-down government change felt so frustratingly slow, so, I found my hope in being able to make a difference in my community. It felt empowering to connect with others who also cared deeply about these issues and were busy getting on with changing what we can in our own community. There’s never a boring meeting or a month passing without an exciting new idea.

If I go back to that very first step in the direction of community climate action, for me it followed a pause. A moment when I downed tools, drew breath and really asked “what is needed here, what can I offer?” Humans have such a huge transition to undertake, we need all hands on deck.

What’s the one community climate action you’ve undertaken that you think had the most impact? 

Humza Yousaf on the XYZ eCargo trike with PCE director Ellen Grünewald in the bucket
Humza Yousaf on the XYZ eCargo trike with PCE director Ellen Grünewald in the bucket

It is possible to live in Portobello without a car and have a great quality of life. We have amazing public transport and, yes, the cycle infrastructure could be better, but there are some lovely quick routes around the city. Our Active Travel Hub is making a difference locally. We are seeing a growing number of families choose cargo bikes as their main mode of transport and adults beginners learning to cycle. There are families giving up their cars and relying on the car club, and people borrowing our bikes to pick up their Christmas Trees or move house (true story!) We even gave the First Minister, Humza Yousaf his first experience of riding a cargo bike last year.

Twice we have closed a major road in Portobello for Bikefest and filled it with bike demos, stalls, and play. It has allowed people to imagine what the streets would be like if they weren’t clogged up with parked cars.

Edinburgh is hilly and until you’ve tried an eBike you might not realise how easy it is to get around, even with other people onboard. Our ambition is to get everyone in Porty to have a go (our eCargo Trikes are good for this.) Each change is one step closer to the day when there are more bikes than cars on the High Street

What story from your community would you like to share? 

Once upon a time, back in 2021, we wanted to get people excited about Retrofit (improving homes to make them more energy efficient) and Heat Networks. So, we organised a Heat Fair (because we love an event title with a double meaning). At the Fair people could learn all about insulation, windows, solar, heat pumps etc, and you could even make your own draught excluder. We had a Q&A to try and understand District Heat Networks and what that might mean for Portobello. There was a ‘Hot Ceilidh’ with a raffle where all the prizes were things like a chimney sheep (stops the draughts) and radiator reflectors. However, it was the Retrofit Roadshow which has had the most interesting legacy.

At the Retrofit Roadshow, EALA Impacts were championing the idea of a collective retrofit (communities getting together to improve the energy efficiency of a group of similar houses). Economies of scale suggest this should be cheaper than an individual retrofit, plus it could be a way to build communities. A row of houses was built at the same time – why not Retrofit them together? In the workshop participants were grouped by housing type and neighbours started talking. Some of these neighbours continued conversations and followed up with us after the event. We decided to host a follow-up event in one area where there was particular interest, and we knocked on every single door to talk about what might be possible. This led to these neighbours getting together to form their own organisation with the intent of exploring collective retrofit. We’re really excited to see what happens next.

A group of people gather on the streets with different kinds of bikes.
Bikefest by Jon Davey

What’s your advice/tips for other community groups wanting to start to take collective action against a changing climate? 

The tune that we hum while working is “A little less conversation a little more action”. We ask – what can we do now with what we have at hand? And then we get on with it.

We think it is always worth trying to involve as many artists and creatives as we can, trying for a vibe that feels as vibrant as our community. We want to offer innovative, attractive, inclusive, and surprising actions for change. So, if you can connect with a mural artist, an architect, a musician, a dancer or film maker in your community (for example) then this is a gift to be cherished.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

This summer we’re organising the Sea Rising Festival, a music and environmental festival on the beach. Perhaps you have a connection with the Portobello community and would like to get involved? We’d love to hear from you.

Keep in Touch


Porty Bike Library:

Twitter: @EnergyPorty

Instagram: @portyenergy

Facebook: PortyCommunityEnergy