A PIONEERING eco-initiative for schools masterminded by a Milford member of Waverley Friends of the Earth has won the prestigious national prize awarded by the Co-op at a ceremony in Manchester.
Mike Smyth, chairman of The Schools’ Energy Co-operative Ltd, took home the prize for the ‘Inspiring Co-op of the Year Awards.’ Mike and his wife Kathy worked tirelessly on environmental issues all over the Waverley borough – including an enterprise in Alfold.
The co-op based in Godalming has installed – free of charge – panels on 50 schools all over the country, providing them with sustainable solar-powered electricity supply at reduced prices, engaging both the local community and students in its projects. It supports school members by providing an alternative to the prevailing commercial rent-a-roof or leasing model.
The group’s main aim is to retain as much as possible of the benefits for the schools, their students and the surrounding communities.
It also provides educational support to member schools and works with the schools and local community groups to maximise the environmental, educational and community impact of the solar installations.
The co-op was originally launched in August 2014 to install its flagship 150kW array of solar panels at Glenleigh Park Primary Academy in Bexhill, East Sussex, and that scheme is still one of the largest community-owned school solar systems in the country.
Mike and project director Laura Moreno were presented with their award at a gala dinner during Co-op Congress in Manchester, the sector’s annual conference, which was celebrating its landmark 150th year. Its annual awards are a celebration of excellence and achievement in the co-op sector.
Mike Smyth said: “I am absolutely delighted that we have won the award for most Inspiring Co-op and grateful to everybody who voted for us.
“I certainly didn’t expect us to win as we are a relatively small co-op and we were up against some much larger organisations.
“I think we won because the public recognised and identified with our core mission which is to help schools tackle climate change by generating renewable energy but also to support them financially in their educational and environmental work.”
The co-op scooped the prize after a public vote which saw numerous organisations and individuals shortlisted in six categories. A record 33,000 votes were cast across all categories, with nominations and votes coming from large and small businesses, members, customers and co-operators across the sector.
Ed Mayo, secretary-general of Co-operatives UK, said: “The Schools’ Energy Co-operative Ltd is an outstanding example of how working co-operatively creates opportunity, prosperity and meaningful work, and brings social and economic benefits to communities and businesses throughout the country.”