Fern Community Funds
Managed by: Octopus Investments/Octopus Renewables
Location: Beinneun and Cour windfarms, Scotland; Grange windfarm, North Lancashire, England
Size: 48 wind turbines across all sites
Homes powered: More than 140,000
Renewable energy generated: 410,000 MWh each year (equivalent to 241,000+ barrels of oil)
Community funds generated: £670,000 per year across all sites
Octopus wind farms in the north of the UK deliver clean energy plus environmental and social benefits for the local community
Octopus has actively engaged with community projects in the north of the UK by offering funding to people who live, work or study near the windfarms it operates there.
Three windfarms in the area, owned by Fern Trading and managed by Octopus Investments, are generating renewable energy as well as returns for local people. The Beinneun, Grange and Cour windfarms have been operational since 2016-17 and between them generate enough energy to power 140,000 houses each year.
Through the funding supplied by the windfarms, Octopus has backed projects including educational activities for schoolchildren, financial support for local university students, reforestation projects and energy subsidies to help residents with heating costs.
The Fern Community Funds were created to provide social benefits to local residents and organisations near the Beinneun, Cour and Grange windfarms.
“Fern’s community benefit funds provide stable, consistent annual contributions to the respective local areas, based on the size of each windfarm,” explained Harrison Brook, Senior Associate at Octopus Renewables. “We appreciate the opportunity to be directly involved in the evaluation of projects that the funds support, and then to see the resulting positive impact on the local areas as we see the projects through to completion.”
Locals are encouraged to apply for funding awards. Their applications are then reviewed by assessment panels made up of people living in the windfarm catchment areas. After that, the final decision about who the money will benefit most falls to Octopus.
The grants have so far proven substantial enough to make a real difference to the community. “You have relatively large areas geographically, but with small population numbers. There are maybe a few thousand people who can access new funds of over half a million pounds a year,” said Angus Robertson, Fern Community Fund manager, who connects Octopus and the local communities. “Charities, local organisations or social enterprises can apply for funding for projects that bring a significant benefit to these remote areas.”
Wide-ranging community benefits
Through the funding awards, Fern supports a huge range of projects. In the past awards have helped with programmes to rewild areas through reforestation, promote regional ecotourism, enable research in deer management and much more. The funds have also supported the production of local newsletters and gone towards new infrastructure for the Invergarry & Fort Augustus Railway Museum.
Social housing and energy subsidies
For some people in northern England and Scotland, fuel poverty is a very real problem. To combat this, the Octopus windfarm funds are put to work to help residents stay warm. In the Beinneun community, for example, all qualifying residents are entitled to a bursary of £250 to put towards their fuel costs.
On top of that, Octopus have funded the construction of social housing. “We’re grateful to have committed our funding and other resources to initiatives including social housing, university student scholarships, upgrading local sports facilities, environmental protection/rewilding studies, and conducting windfarm school field trips,” Brook told us.
Plenty of Fern’s funds have gone towards inspiring and educating the next generation. One award went to the Tarbert Castle Trust, near the Cour windfarm. It helped pay for a project in rural Argyll, where local youngsters could take part in an archaeological excavation at the castle site. After getting involved in the dig, a local student commented, ““It has made me want to learn more about Scotland’s history. It means a whole lot to me.”
The windfarm at Grange was also the host of a school trip itself. After local kids wrote to Octopus Renewables asking to visit, the team couldn’t resist joining them on a field trip. Their teacher, Aimee Bainbridge, told us how much the children enjoyed the day, adding, “This is an experience they will remember their whole lives and who knows what it could lead to for any of them?”
Another portion of the Fern offers scholarships to help students with university costs. One recipient, Jamie Walker, is studying history at Stirling University. He said, “Without the scholarship I would have had difficulty in meeting the costs associated with living away from home and the costs of studying.”