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Case Study: Jamie

Personal details
Degree:MA (Hons) Sustainable Development Profile picture
School(s): School of Geography and Geosciences
Year of Graduation:Jun-2008
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Community Energy Scotland
Job title: Development Officer
Occupational Sector: Environmental Work
What has been your route to getting your current position?
After graduation I started my job hunt, initially looking for something entirely different to this, but when I saw the advert for a post as assistant development officer with Community Energy Scotland, it sounded perfect. I was invited to interview and was subsequently offered a job in Fort William. After around 10 months CES expanded to cover the whole of Scotland and I was offered a Development Officer post covering Central Scotland. I gladly took this up, and although there are daily challenges, I greatly enjoy the work.
What does your job involve ?
We are a charity which offers community groups advice and funding on how to start their own renewable energy projects. These could be small, like a solar panel for a village hall, or big, like large-scale community wind or hydro schemes. I’m mainly office-based but also spend a lot of time out meeting community groups, discussing options, and looking at sites and buildings to assess the potential for different sustainable energy options.
What are the best bits of your job ?
It is a massively rewarding job – we are a company which helps make projects happen, and being able to give grants and support to deliver projects which deliver huge social, economic and environmental benefits to fragile Scottish communities is fantastic. I have a real interest in technology and energy although I don’t have an engineering background, so I find I’m constantly learning things, which I really enjoy.
Why were you successful?
The SD degree was an ideal background for me to have, but I had also done some voluntary work with a similar charity (Forward Scotland) one summer – they also provide grants and support for communities to take forward sustainability projects, and the work I did there was very useful in showing I had experience working for that sort of organization.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
The SD course at St Andrews matches very well with the ethos of CES in terms of putting communities at the centre of efforts to make our societies more sustainable and resilient. It also gave us a great grounding in how to think critically, and a strong background on renewable energy systems. Most of all, the interdisciplinary nature of the degree gave us a broad outlook, which is important in my job – we deal with a huge range of technical, social, environmental and political issues whilst assisting community energy projects, so this was very useful.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?

Working with CES is always challenging – we operate in a very new and fast-moving sector which is very politically-influenced, so we have to make sure we move with it and meet the demand from communities. There are problems (both technical and financial), but I’ve found I learn much more from these than from the projects which run smoothly! Working with volunteers in communities means we do sometimes have to put in long hours so we can meet in the evenings, but the core hours are very fair. We have a small, but dedicated and trusting team of around 30 spread out over the whole of Scotland, but even though we work independently and across huge areas, there is always great support and banter, and we meet up as often as possible.

The projects I work on vary hugely – just now I’m helping a number of village halls install biomass heating systems; I’m processing a grant application for ground source heat pumps and solar panels for a housing association to reduce fuel poverty; I’m assisting a community development trust to develop a 240kW hydro scheme to generate income and carbon savings for the community; and I’m helping the small populations on the isles of Muck and Canna to develop hybrid wind and solar generation systems for their off-grid electricity schemes.

If you want to get into this sort of role, try to get as much work experience as possible with community organizations and similar charities. The renewable sector is changing rapidly, so it’s worth getting up to speed with the policy background too. It also helps to have a strong technical interest in energy, but you don’t need to be an engineer – maths was never my strong point!