Communities turn historic villages green

The low carbon village pilot – supported by £600,000 funding from the National Trust’s energy partner npower – is being trialled at the National Trust owned villages of Coleshill in Oxfordshire and the Wallington Estate in Northumberland. As well as funding the project, npower is also giving advice on effective energy saving solutions for tenants of the properties.

The project involves 62 houses at Coleshill and 73 cottages and 14 farms at Wallington, with properties dating from the 1850s and 1750s respectively. Through community engagement, each village will decide what measures to take to reduce their carbon footprints with the added incentive of making savings to their energy bills.

Residents at Coleshill wanted to find out their current energy consumption and carbon emissions as a starting point so that any success could be measured. On assessment, the average carbon footprint for homes and appliances was 7.57 tonnes of CO2 each year, slightly higher than the national average of 6.15 tonnes.

At Wallington, the community’s overall carbon footprint for heating and electricity was 879 tonnes of CO2, equating to 9.5 tonnes of CO2 per property per year. The reason for this higher emission level is because, like a third of all rural areas in the UK, Wallington is off the gas network. The village therefore has to rely on carbon-intensive oil and electricity for heating which pushes up carbon levels as well as the bills.

After discussing findings and the options available to help reduce emissions, residents at both villages decided that an effective use of the npower funding would be to ensure all houses made basic energy saving improvements first. This approach would ensure all properties would see some benefits by the end of the project. Measures being undertaken over the next 18 months include;

■Encouraging awareness and energy-wise behaviour
■Loft insulation
■Lagging pipes and water tanks
■Draught proofing windows or fitting secondary glazing
■Fitting low energy light bulbs
■Fitment of heating controls
Celia Robbins, the National Trust’s project manager at Wallington, said:

‘By introducing our energy efficiency measures and helping people understand their energy use we hope to make a real difference to both people’s pockets and to the environment.

Our Northumbrian climate and being off the gas network mean that keeping warm and using energy wisely are real issues for the community. Added to this, solid stone walls and single glazed sash windows, make it more difficult to introduce energy efficiency measures in older properties. This project demonstrates what people can do to improve energy efficiency on properties of any age.

Installing sheep’s wool insulation and improving the efficiency of off-grid electricity generation will reduce Wallington’s carbon footprint by more than 10 Per cent.

On advice from npower’s energy advisor, we are also encouraging residents to monitor their electricity with a real time display which shows how much any appliance uses every six seconds. Using the display can be quite a revelation because although electricity is invisible this helps people see exactly how much they use and the associated costs.’

Caroline Dower, one of the villagers at Wallington, has used the display meter for several months. She commented:

‘The most surprising thing was how much electricity the towel rail was using. I assumed it wouldn’t be very much. In fact we worked out by turning if off we’re saving nearly £200 a year!’

The National Trust’s low carbon village projects have been developing over the past 18 months, looking for solutions on how to make older and historic buildings more energy efficient. Lessons learnt may be shared with the government following its recent announcement of new funding and support for 20 low carbon communities across the UK.

Rob Jarman, head of sustainability and environmental practices at the National Trust, said:

‘This pilot is showing us how to best work with our tenants to reduce energy use and generate renewable energy on all our estates and properties.

We have already done a lot of improvements to cottages and houses, such as insulation and low energy fittings, but we have potential to really achieve some serious energy savings. The Trust looks after 60 estate villages in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – with nearly 5,000 tenanted homes – and in each one we can demonstrate what measures people can take across older properties and what can be achieved in a relatively short time.

People don’t necessarily need to invest in expensive technologies to start ‘greening’ their homes and benefiting from the savings made on energy costs. It is often the case that the basics will make a substantial difference in the first instance. We hope that our low carbon experience can contribute to the government’s recent Low Carbon Communities Challenge.

Kevin Miles, CEO of npower retail, commented:

‘This is a very exciting project for us. Together with the National Trust we are committed to helping reduce emissions at its several hundred tenanted properties and we are keen to share our expertise with residents and advice on what might help them achieve their goals.’

A new website has been launched to follow the progress of the National Trust’s low carbon villages. For further information visit http://www.lowcarbonvillages.org.uk

Have your say on this story using the comment section below