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Observer Ethical awards Winners 2011

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Suffolk community take action to reduce heating costs

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 13 December 2011 at 11:39 am

'We live in Walpole, a small village in north Suffolk. It has approximately 240 residents, but lost its pubs, shops and village school years ago,' writes Anne Thomas, one of our shortlisted contributors.

'About 2 years ago, the Parish Council (for Cookley and Walpole - Cookley has approximately 80 residents) invited John Taylor from Greener Suffolk (a County Council organisation) to come and speak at an open meeting, about carbon reduction and how parishes can achieve this.

'After the meeting a small group got together to talk about what could be done in this small parish to reduce our carbon emissions and our heating costs. We don't have access to piped gas in this area, and many of the houses are pre-war, with a relatively high number of modest listed timber-framed buildings dating from before 1600.

'Consequently the parish is very dependent upon oil-fired heating systems. We also believed that many homes miss out on the generous allowances and 'freebies' for cavity wall and loft insulation, because the majority have no  cavity walls, and many have no loft spaces (traditional Suffolk 'long house' design has  bedrooms within the roof pitch). This is not a wealthy parish   and many residents still work in traditional farming or are retired.

'From this initial meeting, Cookpole Energy Action was formed.There are just six of us volunteers  on the committee, with another two who participate when they can. We are currently an 'unincorporated association', but have in hand our application to register as a charity, and to register as a limited company. Our website, which gives much more information - is at www.energyaction.org.uk.

'We initially undertook a detailed survey of homes, via questionnaire. This confirmed what we believed - that the majority of homes are without cavity walls and many are without lofts, and that only a very few had been able to afford new condensing boilers, solid fuel/wood pellet burners, or photovoltaic/solar panels or other renewables.Most were struggling with rising fuel costs.

'It was clear from this that whatever system we opted to promote had to have a good carbon reducing record and be accessible/useful to most. Taking into account our location, the needs of the majority of residents and a survey of all the systems etc available, we opted for wind power  and have, since then, been working on and fundraising for the purchase and siting of two community-owned wind turbines - small Gaia turbines which are well-suited to local onditions and wind speed.

'This is an ambitious, time consuming and long term plan - more details can be found on our website - and we have had a lot of support (and some negatives!). The turbines will be sited in different parts of the parish, on land made available by the (farmer) owners. Income from the sale of electricity back to the National Grid  will be used to fund other local green initiatives. These will  include the purchase and installation of solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Pavilion (Walpole's small village hall) to reduce the running costs and to fuel a free electric cycle charging point; the possible purchase of community electric cycles available to use at  very low cost to residents; grants and subsidies to people on low income to replace old boilers with more efficient ones; a monthly produce market in the Pavilion and more community lunch days (currently only monthly) for older people.

'We are also involved with setting up allotments in the parish  (the previous ones were sold off in the  1960s), hopfully with its own borehole and solar water pump,and have organised a 'Home Insulation' day with the District Council, where free home insulation materials - panels, rolls, door and window insulation etc were available to everyone able to use them.

With winter upon us, we now want to be able to give people an idea of where their major sources of home heat loss are, so that we can follow this up with another joint Council/CEA event with free insulation materials and - where necessary- help with fitting and insulation, and advice on other methods of heat and draught-proofing eg inexpensive secondary double-glazing, thermal curtains/curtain lining etc. We have looked at thermal imaging cameras, but at £1,000+ a time this would take too much of our fund-raised money which we have to spend on bat and other environmental surveys for our 2nd turbine planning application.

The B&D equipment which you're offering would be absolutely brilliant  - we could either lend it out free, or do surveys for people unable to do it, so it would help a lot of people - and you'd have a mention on our website, as well!

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