Street stalls are an effective way for community renewable energy projects to raise their profiles, increase their membership, raise capital and promote forthcoming events.
A street stall gives members of your community the chance to meet the people involved in running a project face to face. People can then ask questions, show support, express concerns, or sign up to your mailing list for further information.
Hepburn Wind — Australia's first community-owned wind farm — ran a street stall every two months from project inception to generation. These 100 or so stalls have been crucial to building the project's strong community support and has assisted them in overcoming key hurdles, such as being granted planning permission. They still continue to run street stalls for the warmer half of the year in order to act as a listening post and continue to ensure there is widespread support for the project.
Main topics covered in this article include:
1. Why run a street stall?
Street stalls are a good way to engage your local community and tell them about your project. If your aim is to build a community wind farm or other renewable energy project, you need to have the local community on your side. Putting up notices and placing adverts in the local newspaper is a one-sided communication, allowing only limited feedback from the community. With a street stall, people can chat to your volunteers and learn about your project, how renewable energy works and its many benefits. You'll also have the chance to dispel some of the myths surrounding renewable energy.
Street stalls can also remind the community your project is still on track and things are moving steadily forward. People will be reassured by your continued presence and can check in on progress.
Depending on the size of your project, you may want to get exposure beyond your local area. Hepburn Wind held street stalls in Daylesford, but also in surrounding towns such as Ballarat, Woodend, Castlemaine and Ballan, and in Melbourne. This helped attract more members and capital. Many were timed to coincide with an announcement, giving potential members more reason to get on board. For instance, they set up a stall at the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne shortly after announcing a contract with wind turbine manufacturer REpower Australia. At this event, volunteers took over 100 names — 80 of which became members, contributing financially to the project.
It's important to spend time early on talking to the community about your renewable energy project. With understanding comes acceptance, and community approval is vital to your project’s chances of success. Without it, your proposal is unlikely to get off the ground. Holding street stalls is a valuable way to inform the community about your project, and get feedback. Have a list of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) at the stall. Your list could include information on:
- your project
- how your renewable energy technology works, and its benefits
- what studies or assessments are being done
- how much the project costs
- how much money it will make
- how much carbon the project will offset
- the number of people being consulted
- ways to get involved.
You can also promote other activities at your street stall. For example, Hepburn Wind promoted a series of bus tours to see nearby wind turbines. More than 200 people took up the opportunity to get up close to a wind farm and become more familiar with what the project would mean for the area.
For the most part, people who approach street stalls are curious — they may have spotted your sign and want to find out more about your project. They're unlikely to be antagonistic towards you. The Hepburn Wind experience showed that people with negative views (for example, those who are anti-wind or climate change sceptics) tend to email their views rather than visit the stalls.
Raising capital is particularly important for a community project that doesn't have access to large amounts of money. Even a small wind farm like Hepburn Wind costs millions of dollars, so it's important to develop a large supporter base. Hepburn Wind has 2000 members who have contributed $9.8 million to the project. Most of them heard about the project through a street stall.
It's a good idea to keep offer documents, brochures and FAQs at the stall so anyone who wants to can either sign up on the spot or take the information away with them to read at their leisure. Whenever you can; take people's contact details so you can continue to inform them of forthcoming events.
2. What information should we make available?
People will be drawn to a street stall that's attractive and has colourful elements such as photo boards and maps. Images of what the project will look like is a great way to draw people in.
Make sure you have lots of interesting materials on your project, and on renewable energy generally, such as:
- brochures about the project
- a mailing list with space for people to record their contact details
- fun items like stickers and temporary tattoos
- share offer documents
- answers to FAQs
- information from other, relevant environmental groups.
3. Where's a good place to set up?
Choose a busy spot where as many people as possible will see your stall. You'll probably need local council permission, and some councils will say where you can set up. Keep a copy of the letter of permission with you at all times.
Here are a few tips:
- Find a spot on the high street or at a busy shopping centre.
- Consider one-off events like school fetes, agricultural shows or community festivals.
- Choose peak times — like Saturday mornings.
- Choose somewhere with plenty of space — don’t block exits or shop entrances.
- Protect your stall from the elements — in the height of summer or the depths of winter.
- Choose somewhere with easy access — can you park nearby to unload your table, chairs and boxes of materials?
- If you have a display rack, use it. If not, take some paperweights to stop materials blowing away.
- Take everything you may need including pens, paper, string, sticky tape, blu-tac, scissors and so on.
- Take a table for your materials as well as fold-up chairs, hats, sunscreen and water.
- Take photos of your stall to send to the media, use on a photoboard or put in your next newsletter.
4. How often should we be there?
Hepburn Wind held about six street stalls a year, and also had stalls at four or five other events during the year. This is the level of activity they feel worked for them and which they could sustain, based on the number of volunteers. Your group will need to work out how often you can hold a stall, based on the size of your organisation and the level of commitment of your members.
5. What kind of branding do we need?
If you haven't already, it's a good idea to develop some simple branding materials to give your group a consistent identity.
- If you have the budget, ask a graphic designer to develop a logo.
- Include your logo on banners, brochures and other materials, such as letterheads, to give your communications a professional feel.
- If you’re on a tight budget, simply paint a banner to use at your street stalls.
- Remember, flags, display boards and signs can also help attract attention.
6. Who should run the stall?
People who are outgoing, cheerful, confident or just want to play their part are ideal for running a street stall. If you appear approachable and have a smile, people will be drawn to you. Here are some tips:
- You need to be a confident salesperson — you’ve got to step out in front of passers-by because lots of people are too nervous to approach a stall, even if they're interested or supportive.
- Always have at least two people at your stall. This is good for moral support but also means that one person at a time can leave to grab a coffee or snack.
- Ideally, have a director of your association or cooperative at your street stall. They're intimately involved in the project, so can give detailed, informed responses.
- Keep it simple — it’s no more complex than giving people an opportunity to talk about your project.
- Consider having volunteers of different ages working together — this will help attract a wider cross section of people.
You don't need any specialist skills to volunteer. Volunteers can be from any background, profession or age group. However, it's a good idea to provide some training to you volunteers so that they can answer questions effectively and consistently.