Fitzmaurice fly over the finish line!

On the 22nd October 2013, the team at Fitzmaurice primary launched their Solar Schools efforts with a whole school assembly. Now, just eight months later, they've engaged their entire community, featured in the Bath Chronicle more times than you can count and most importantly, reached their £16,000 target. Actually, they haven't just reached their target, they have flown over it with £17,000 now in the bank and more coming.

We thought it only fitting to give them one more shot of the Solar Schools Superstar crown to celebrate!

Richard Craft, one of the team coordinating the project at the school, took some time off from firing party poppers to talk to us about the project and what it feels like to be finito.

You're finished! First things first, how have you and the team been celebrating? 

Nothing yet, really, we're just trying to take it all in.  The Solar School Team is going to have a champagne meal at Diana's house
sometime over the next few weeks; we'll have a grand opening when the installation has taken place and invite all our sponsors and donors etc.  There is a school picnic after school on the last day of term, so we'll probably do something then as well.  I did a little spot this week with the children in assembly - ceremonial placing of the last few stickers on our "Solar School Pole" that has been in Christine's shop.

As your final fundraising event of the year you had an amazing auction of promises which raised over £3,500. What was on offer on the night to make this possible?

So many things to list! We had over 65 lots on offer from all sorts of people in the local community and beyond. The highest grossing bid went for a date with Gavin Henson, and went for a whopping £910! 4 nights at Shooting star Lodge in Zanzibar went for £220. Others lots included a coaching session for 30 kids with Lewis Moody 4 hour canal drip, tickets to the Eden project, a trip to the local cinema in a limousine and a cake a month for a year!

You've really mastered fundraising, social media and press this year. What advice do you have for new schools joining the project, to help them fly ahead, just like you?  

Number one is to be totally committed to the idea; it won't just happen, you have to put in a lot of energy and thought into it; if you do this you'll be surprised at the response you get from people you've never even heard of before. Get a good team around you, making sure one is an enthusiastic school governor and another an equally enthusiastic member of the Parents Association with different skills and strengths (identify these first), keep it fluid and not too formal and have fun. We had a few meetings at the start but most of the work and organising was done by e-mail, phone and the occasional coffee.  

Identify where you're going to advertise and who's going to do what - we used Twitter, Facebook, local weekly papers (Wiltshire Times and Bath Chronicle), local monthly community newsletter The Gudgeon, local climate change newsletter (I happened to be the one who writes it, which is a great advantage!)  Most of all, don't be too precious in the team about the role you have, cross fertilisation is good and paths often crossed but nobody got upset, we just put it down to enthusiasm and never lost sight of our aim; bickering/moaning just saps energy and diverts you.

Just eight months of fundraising has seen 150 donations uploaded to your website - What would you like to say to your donors and supporters?  

A massive thank you for their support. It's a project that will benefit the whole Bradford on Avon community, not just the school, in their quest to become Carbon Neutral by 2050.  You have made a very positive contribution to the local community and the planet in general!

The school pupils have really thrown themselves into the fundraising efforts this year, do you have any pupil highlights to share with us? 

The way they (and their parents and staff) engaged in the 'Sunhats and Shades' non-uniform day on a miserable wet and cold day back in February.  The way all the children responded to the renewable energy day during the school science and technology week when we were able to bring local experts in to the school to speak to the children; Kevin's Tesla electric car being driven in the playground was a huge hit - and Kevin loved it as much as the children!

Organised as ever, you already have your installation plans in place. Do you have any advice for other schools as they begin the search for an installer too? 

Get 'ball park' quotes right from the start, as soon as you are accepted onto the scheme.  This gives you a strong indication of how much you need to raise and a good installer will be able to look at your roof and identify any potential roof issues right from the beginning.  Find out if you have any 'experts' in the community who could advise you and even recommend installers.

We are lucky in the Climate Friendly BoA is well ahead of the game and knew of several installers.

What are your top tips for getting the whole community involved in the project? 

Try to dream up events that anyone from the town can take part in and invite them along, as with the Table Tennis Marathon - Town Council, other schools, sports clubs, Preservation Trust, Chamber of Commerce, etc.

Check Twitter daily and keep people bang up to date - build up momentum and keep this going; thank anyone who's re-tweeted; get a number of people on Twitter to re-tweet everything for you to help spread the word, ditto Facebook (I'd not used Twitter or Facebook previous to the SS project!)  

We were lucky in that Christine's Sustainable Supermarket is smack bang in the middle of town and became very much the focus for people not directly involved with the school - she put up posters for us, displayed the 'Pole' in her window and had a collection box on her counter as well as a very persuasive manner!!!  

If your town/village has a climate change group or is a Transition Town, get them involved right from the beginning to work out what they can do to help you.  They will be only too pleased to be asked to contribute to a project that totally fits their aims and objectives.

What has been your overall highlight of the Solar Schools project? 

The sprint to the finish line once we'd passed the £10,000 mark, it all happened so quickly it was just a blur and seemed to be all over in a flash. Any uncertainty over whether we would reach the target just evaporated and we became 100% confident we'd do it. Also the number of new people I've met, in a very positive way - parents, town residents, organisations, etc.

You have 5 words to describe the past 8 months - go!  

Fun, exhausting, exhilarating, entertaining, rewarding.
Solar Schools is all about getting the community involved and Fitzmaurice have gone above and beyond to do so a truly amazing effort from the team at Fitzmaurice, the students and the local community - CONGRATULATIONS, enjoy the champagne team!

Banner photo: Haymarket solar