15 Jul 2009, 3:02 PM
A village in Cheshire has set itself a goal - to be the first carbon neutral village in the UK. In 2006, an engineer living in Ashton Hayes began talking to his neighbours. He had a revolutionary idea - the question was - would anyone listen?
Garry Charnock's idea was actually quite simple - he proposed that the village should no longer contribute to global warming. "We have a pub , a school, a church - a couple of churches actually - lots of organisations, a 1000 people in 350 houses who commute to places like Liverpool, Manchester, Chester or work for international organisations on the Mersey estuary."
Charnock wanted future generations to understand that not only had they recognised the danger of climate change, but, they had also started doing something about it. Whatever carbon dioxide they did produce would be balanced out by planting new trees, or using renewable energy.
He told the BBC - "Well, I was a bit nervous that people would think it was a rather a crazy idea. So I went to the pub quiz one night and I spoke to my best friends in the village and I said 'how do you feel about this?' And they said "Oh go for it, we would really support you if you went for it" which I was surprised about because I thought people might think I was rather cranky.
Nearly half the village turned out to hear Charnock speak. It was agreed that staff and students from the University of Chester would measure the amount of carbon each family was emitting, and then suggest ways of reducing it.
Initially the landlord at the Golden Lion was the most sceptical person in the village - but now there are low energy light bulbs outside. Barry Cooney started to switch off machines, dumped the tumble dryer and ran the ovens later - in a month he had reduced his electricity bill by a fifth and saved £200.
Cooney said: "I mean if you just stop and think about it - why have the Coca-Cola machine running all night? Why have your coolers running all night? Because we just walk away from it. But once you get into it, it is like a bug, once you get into it you know you are saving it for yourself and you are doing your bit for the climate changes."
The village primary school has also been doing its bit - giving the children an insight into climate change. And that has led to a lot of pester power when the kids go home.
"The village is adopting a real sort of global awareness you know what's going on in the world, what's going on locally but also how can they look at saving money and also helping the environment we've got all sorts of aspects being touched through something quite simple really but something very very exciting," says Head teacher Rob Ford.
Outside a solar panel heats water for the school cleaners, while a wind-turbine contributes to the building's power supply.
The community will use straw to insulate to two temporary classrooms. "The straw works like all insulating material by trapping air in the body of the material," says architect Andy Foster. "Some insulating materials are much more efficient than straw and can be thinner - a straw bale is going to be three to four feet thick. But one of the advantages is that it is relatively cheap because straw is not that expensive to use as a material.
"With any luck we might find a local farmer that's willing to donate some of the materials and it will be an economic project to take forward and have a lot of impact at the same time."
The schoolchildren have helped plant hundreds of trees - to help absorb the carbon dioxide that they do produce.
On the outskirts of the village is what could become the most energy efficient house in Cheshire. This house uses the heat stored in the ground to warm the building, treble glazing, solar cells, rainwater recycling and extra insulation.
And how widespread will this type of building will become? "Very widespread," says the developer and builder, Brian Spencer.
"As time goes by people will look and say, 'why didn't we do it earlier - what was stopping us in the first place. Therefore as it becomes more and more prevalent in the market it should then become more economically viable as well."
And the result ? So far, according to the University's measurements, the village reduced its carbon footprint by over 20% in the first year, and with efforts still continuing, it looks as if the initiative will go from strength to strength.