In January 2022, 16 years will have passed since residents of a small Cheshire village first gathered together to discuss how they could make a real difference to the world’s climate challenges.
Over a decade and a half on from that bitterly cold evening in January 2006 when the residents of Ashton Hayes pledged to try to become England’s first carbon neutral village, the pioneering project is still going strong and over the years has yielded incredible results – managing to cut the village’s carbon emissions and energy bills by almost 50% through careful energy use and improved insulation.
It all started with an idea from RSK Executive Director Garry Charnock, an Ashton Hayes resident at the time, who was determined to do something proactive about climate change and enlisted his village counterparts to start the community-led initiative Ashton Hayes Going Carbon Neutral project to embark on a completely different way of living. The University of Chester also got involved, agreeing to carry out independent annual calculations of the CO2 emissions from the village.
Over the years, residents made simple but effective changes to their lives, including switching off electrical appliances, changing to low energy light bulbs, taking fewer flights and installing solar panels. After the first year alone, the village cut its carbon emissions by 20% and 16 years later that’s gone up to between 35 and 50%, with towns and cities across the world looking to Ashton Hayes for ideas on how to replicate its success in their own localities.
In 2010, Ashton Hayes was chosen as one of 22 communities to receive funding under the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s Low Carbon Communities Challenge. The £400,000 grant was used to build a low carbon sports pavilion with a Solar PV array that generates income to help fund the maintenance of the pavilion and field. The panels, owned by the Ashton Hayes Community Energy Company, have generated over 100,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in the 10 years since they were installed.
These days, Garry is still as keen as ever to drive sustainability action on the project, and with the help of RSK, he has produced a timeline showing its key milestones over the years. The original members of the project team now want to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project and have attracted new and younger members to the energy company who will now ‘carry the baton’ and continue encouraging developments in the village. Recently, the project has funded the purchase of an infrared camera that residents can use to check for heat leakage from their properties. In addition, air pollution monitoring equipment is being deployed to check the quality of air around the school and village roads.
“I now see my role as giving advice and support to this dynamic team that will hopefully bring fresh ideas to ensure the village continues on its carbon neutral journey for many years to come,” Garry explains. And he is thankful to RSK for sponsoring the project since 2005 and allowing him time off to visit and inspire other communities and engage with government officials on community carbon reduction projects.
Garry and the team have given talks to around 150 villages in the UK and have hosted visits from people across the globe. Two years ago, a film of one of his talks was made by Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) and it is available on YouTube here. It has been watched widely by communities wishing to embark on similar projects.
Meanwhile, in April 2022, almost two decades after that first village meeting in 2006, Garry will receive an honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Chester for his commitment to community engagement in climate change. What an achievement!