A visit to The Power Station
Neighbours - 'The Powerful' - prepare to collectively power their homes
Hilary Powell and Dan Edelstyn - two London artists and filmmakers, are old friends of mine. We collaborated on their debt cancellation campaign and art project. That was hugely successful in paying down about £1.2 million in debt owed by members of their Walthamstow community. The campaign culminated in a movie ‘The Bank Job’. The climax of the film occurs when more than £1 million of high interest debts are stacked in a van, and deliberately blown up in car park close to Canary Wharf. (The blown up bits of the van were until recently on exhibit at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.)
Their latest venture (as mentioned in an earlier post) is a bold crowdfunder - in which they set out to raise money to subsidise the collective provision of solar power energy for homes in their street in Walthamstow, London, but also for a local school.
Their aim: “Every building a Power Station.”
What are ‘the Powerful’ doing to move towards net zero?
Hilary and Dan together with their neighbours, despair at the failure of the government to come up with a national plan to move households away from fossil fuels and to help retrofit Britain’s old, and often leaky housing stock. But, they argue:
We do not need permission to do remarkable things, we must just stand up, meet the challenges as they come and put one foot in front of the other.
So they have decided (as explained on their website)
to take matters into our own hands precisely because the powers that be have utterly dropped the ball on this one.
Until government wakes up to its responsibilities, the Power Station Movement works to find ways in which communities (‘the Powerful’) can do it themselves, and help each other in the process.
Quite a lot of what they’re doing (with their 15,000 subscribers and their immediate neighbours) is education: raising awareness and spreading understanding of how to become more self-sufficient in energy. In other words, how to make “every building a power station.”
To raise and manage funding for the project and their community, they have set up
a Community Interest Company, which has social purpose enshrined in it’s constitution. One real benefit of this is that it’s proving quite handy for grant funding applications. Showing that you have a formal not-for-profit structure, with transparent accounting and so on is a plus point. For artists / activists applying for small pots of money it’s a good way of, so to speak, showing that there is a grown up in the room – you won’t just blow the grant on discussing mad ideas down the pub.
Not that they ignore “mad ideas”
Their big idea, however, is this: by clubbing together and guaranteeing a minimum number of installations all in essentially the same or adjoining postcode they have brought the price per install in each house, down by 50%. The main saving comes on the installation costs.
The downside of the scheme is that it won’t do anything to help those in their community who are Fuel Poor and won’t be able to pay for their own solar.
Hence the need for crowdfunding.
To help raise the money for their local community they offered to spend several long, freezing and rainy December nights sleeping in a specially rigged up bed on the roof of their house in Lynmouth Road.
They duly raised £100,000!
Last week I got a chance to visit and resolved to check out the now-famous bed-on-a-roof - still tied to chimneys.
But first, to ready us both for the climb, Dan made two cups of strong coffee laced with Bourbon….
I then began the climb. This meant negotiating two narrow ladders and crossing the sturdy scaffolding attached to the roof of their house.
It was scary. No guard rails. Steep narrow ladders. Unnerving gusts of wind.
But I made it…and discovered just why Hilary in particular found the experience so exhilarating - despite the rain, wind and cold.
The sense of excitement, of being on the edge of something, of uncluttered freedom, is palpable; and the view stunning. Not to mention the warm feelings stirred by a cup of strong coffee and bourbon!
They now have a team of 5 people making this project come to life, as well as accountants, book-keepers, insurances, equipment and so much software - so if you are in a position to do so, please do join them here.
It’s neat to see this kind of initiative. Reminds me a little of a trip to China circa 2012 when the rooftops of all the stores and houses around the hotel were covered with solar panels, powering much of the hotel itself. Seems like that’s a “power station” idea too.
Brilliant and lovely! And the concept is so simple – act as a consolidation. Putting it all together is a lot of work, however, and I applaud your friends with gusto!