Community is important. It shapes our everyday lives and provides a foundation for socio-economic development and prosperity. People form and maintain communities to meet common shared needs. Communities can be united by interest, action, place, practice, and circumstance to bring meaning and purpose to the everyday. Such social units anchor us in a common shared space, theoretically and/or geographically, giving the foundation by which to exercise our agency.
Social value and community benefit is becomingly increasingly integral within the energy industry. Protium is committed to supporting local communities which host our green hydrogen projects. We recognise the importance of engaging early and comprehensively with the host community in which we are developing our projects. As part of best practice, the Magor Net Zero project team held both a Community Benefit Workshop in April 2023 and an Educational Workshop in June 2023.
The Local Government Association provides a definition of social value as 'the wider financial and non-financial value created by an organisation through its day-to-day activities in terms of the wellbeing of individuals and communities, social capital created and the environment.'1
The Shaw Trust likewise emphasises the importance of future generations when considering social value, and divides the concept into three interconnected themes:2
Though the concept of social value is well-established, its importance has taken on a renewed significance in new and emerging green infrastructure and related developments. The project team has sought to identify areas of opportunity for social value provisions in Magor and the surrounding communities, and as part of this research have called upon residents, businesses, local authorities and charities for their input into how, and where, social value could best be delivered.
Earlier this spring, the Magor Net Zero project team travelled to Magor, Monmouthshire, to convene at Magor Baptist Church for a Community Benefit workshop.
Amongst the attendees were community representatives from the various host and neighbouring councils including Monmouthshire County Council, Magor and Undy Town Council, Redwick Community Council, and Bishton Community Council. The workshop subsequently enjoyed a broad representative sample from the four councils directly affected by the project, illustrating a desire within local communities to engage productively with the project team on the issue of community benefits.
This allowed for the discussion of prospective community benefits in an open and informal dialogue. Attendance and participation in the workshop was not indicative of any participant's views on the principles of the project currently in the pre-application consultation phase, but was focused on the consideration of community and local benefit.
Protium is committed to working with communities which host our green hydrogen projects and we have adopted a 'community-first' approach when bringing forward the Magor Net Zero proposals. This approach includes:
The workshop was organised in accordance with the principle of involving local communities in the development and design process, which has guided Protium since the project's inception back in 2021. Feedback was consequently recorded and analysed to help inform the final scheme design.
Prior to the commencement of the workshop, and to ensure full openness and transparency, attendees were reminded that no commitments had been made at this stage, and that the delivery of social value investments would depend on the project receiving development consent from the Welsh Government.
The workshop was structured around a presentation which recapped the proposals and prior community engagement, including the informal consultation undertaken in autumn 2022. The community benefit discussions were arranged thematically and divided into five sections:
The first theme focused on the employment benefits of the project. This ranged from job creation on-site, support for local supply chains during construction, and opportunities for technical education to encourage future generations into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) sectors, such as apprenticeships. Attendees supported the principle of working with higher education providers to encourage careers in emerging green sectors, as well as the provision of workshops in primary schools to introduce younger children into STEM, climate action, and renewable energy.
The second theme highlighted Protium's determination to maintain and enhance the local environment, in line with the Welsh Government's statutory requirement for developers to incorporate a Net Benefit for Biodiversity (NBB) into all developments to ensure 'long term, measurable and demonstrable benefit' for biodiversity and ecosystems. Some of the community benefit provisions under consideration include the planting of native tree and hedgerow species, the creation of wildflower meadows, and the installation of bird boxes, bee banks, and invertebrate hotels.
The third theme centred on landscaping and visual impact and explored how the proposals could be screened from public and private viewpoints. Some of the prospective options include planting mature, native tree species which can integrate into, and enhance, existing ecosystems, and act as buffer zones to reduce any visual impact. Other ideas include the creation of wildlife corridors to support the movement of animals and habitat connectivity, and natural fencing where possible.
The fourth theme listed some of the many local community groups and projects which operate in the surrounding area, and considered how the project could support their work. The invitation issued asked invitees to provide names of groups and organisations which could be supported as part of the proposals, which has allowed an initial list of groups to be built. The Protium team highlighted that whilst these are not commitments at this stage, the comments were useful in giving an idea of the community work being undertaken locally, and would help the project team think about how the proposals could support them.
The fifth theme considered socio-economic value. This section was intended to outline how Protium visualises its social value offering and how this could make a tangible difference for residents. Some of the suggestions discussed include green hydrogen education classes; the donation of laptops, stationery, and other resources to local schools; creation of community green spaces; support for sustainable modal travel and active lifestyles; provision of Welsh language classes; creation of information boards to promote the heritage of the local area; solar panels for public buildings; and the allocation of seed capital for local SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises).
The workshop closed with a commitment that, throughout the lifetime of the project, the team would engage with the local community, to achieve the overarching aim of maximising community benefits across the entire value chain.
Following feedback received in April's Community Benefit workshop, Protium have committed to a programme of education workshops across Welsh schools as a means of introducing younger generations to the role of green hydrogen as a source of renewable energy. The first workshop, organised to trial and refine our approach before rolling it out to other schools, took place in a South Wales school in June with 40 Year 3 children. The workshop focused on the issue of climate change, the importance of renewable energy, and the agency of humans in building a greener future.
The children responded very well to the workshop, and we were impressed with their prior knowledge of renewable energy and their adaptability when learning about green hydrogen, a complex technology. After a presentation and educational session, each child had the opportunity to make their own green hydrogen with our mini demo kits. There was also an opportunity to drive a mini green hydrogen car, putting their new knowledge into practice as budding climate activists. We also held a wind turbine making session, where groups of children made turbines out of waste materials and, as a team, had to invent a project where their turbine could power something in their local community.
We next intend to visit further schools around the Magor Net Zero sites and look forward to engaging with local schoolchildren. We are open to conducting adult learning sessions, too. We likewise look forward to rolling out our STEM offering to encourage young people to enter a sector of the future.
This is just the beginning. The Community Benefit workshop and education workshop are only a small step of the journey we hope to go on with local residents, stakeholders, businesses, charities, campaign groups, and interested parties. Fundamental to our approach is a commitment to working collaboratively and ambitiously with the local community to agree a series of measures which will support and enhance the social fabric of the towns and villages which surround the project.
We look forward to discussing prospective community benefit and social value provisions as the project moves forward in the coming months.