Gwynedd social enterprise expands team and develops new climate action projects during lockdown

An award-winning social enterprise expanded its team during the Covid pandemic, adding seven new members of staff who will be responsible for arranging climate assemblies in Gwynedd communities.

Datblygiadau Egni Gwledig (DEG), based in Caernarfon, works with communities around north west Wales, helping them to cope with the rising costs of fossil fuels while addressing the climate emergency. The business was founded in 2014 to focus on strengthening the local economy through working with local communities on energy projects.

When lockdown hit in early 2020, director Grant Peisley furloughed his small team for five months and ran the office alone, unpaid. During that time he also donated his time to help with a food bag delivery initiative in Peblig Ward linked to the Arfon Food Bank, helping to raise over £7,500 for food deliveries to vulnerable households.

With all projects on hold, there was no money coming into the business, so the £10,000 rates grant DEG received helped to keep the business running while staff were furloughed. “Some of that money was used to pay for time to keep the business ticking over,” says Grant, “doing all the admin stuff, talking to funders and key stakeholders, updating the website with Covid information – all that stuff still had to be going on. And looking after the staff as well, making sure they were OK at home and seeing how they were coping.”

Once employees had returned to work, the focus turned to how DEG could continue its work without being able to go into the communities it supports. 

“Before Covid arrived we'd been working on getting funding for a new project, and that came through at the end of 2020,” Grant explains. “That led to needing to recruit staff, and then we were also offered some money from the National Lottery Community Fund Climate Action Boost. We used that to purchase a three-year lease on an electric vehicle that can be used by local people, and it's also used by DEG's staff.”

DEG also received support to fine-tune their ideas around developing a decarbonisation and retrofit service for home owners in Gwynedd, using expertise that DEG has developed over the years on energy efficiency in buildings. Grant explains: “People kept asking us to help them with their houses, so we turned that into a service, and had some help from the Wales Co-Operative Centre which paid for some time from BIC Innovation to help us with marketing plans and really refining our ideas - so some niche services developed during Covid.”

During the lockdown after Christmas 2020 another major DEG project, GwyrddNi, was developed. This community-based, community-led climate action movement aims to bring people together in five areas of Gwynedd to discuss, share and act locally to tackle climate change via ‘climate assemblies’. DEG needed a team to run GwyrddNi, but recruitment during the various stages of lockdown was challenging.

“It was a struggle recruiting, it really was difficult,” says Grant. “People weren't looking to change careers at that time, they just wanted to stay doing what they were doing; there was that one piece of security to hang onto, which might have been part of it. And people were concentrating on Covid, and we were employing people for climate change which just wasn't a priority for people to think about at that time, I guess.”

How did Covid change the recruitment process? 

“All our interviewing was by Zoom, which was kind of difficult for us in some ways because we're really a people organisation - we're very socially minded, very social people, so not being able to meet people one-on-one... you get so much more out of that.”

Will Covid impact how DEG’s climate assemblies will work? Will they be digital too?

“There's still a lot of uncertainty about it really,” says Grant. “We don't want them to be digital, we want to do them in person - but we may have to do them digitally. We've got a plan for both, which kind of makes even more work! And we're doing something new here -it's hard enough trying to do something new in certain times, let alone doing something new in uncertain times!”

DEG’s GwyrddNi climate assemblies begin in May 2022. Those living in the areas covered will receive details by post, but in the meantime GwyrddNi will be getting its own website in February which will provide more information.