21 Jan 2021
Shaping a sustainable future is one of the biggest challenges of our time and we’re extremely proud of the work we do to help our clients deliver their projects and operate more sustainably. At the heart of this sits a team of incredibly talented individuals who are passionate about building a better world for future generations – both personally and professionally. None more so, than Swaffham Prior resident and our Director of Ecology, Mike Barker.
Mike has been making headlines recently as a member of a pioneering group of residents who have joined forces to see their village become one of the UK's first communities to switch to net zero carbon heating.
Over 150 (70%) of homes in Swaffham Prior, like many others across the UK, are reliant on oil to heat their homes as they are not connected to the gas grid. This type of heating is environmentally unsustainable, very expensive and prices often fluctuate.
“Retrofitting these homes is one of the biggest challenges for the Government in their pursuit for zero carbon” said Mike Barker, Director of Ecology. “The switch to a more eco-friendly energy supply comes at a huge cost for individuals and this is a huge barrier to change. I knew I wanted to reduce my carbon emissions and knew a growing number of like-minded local residents who felt the same, so, we joined forces and set up the Heating Swaffham Prior project with the aim of bringing a high temperature, low carbon, village heat network to the village in a cost efficient way”.
For the last three years, Swaffham Prior Community Land Trust, in collaboration with Cambridgeshire County Council, has been working to design a community heating network to address these issues. The overall aim of the project is to provide cheaper, renewable heating to as many homes as possible in the village.
Their solution will replace individual household boilers by connecting homes to a shared heat network that taps into naturally occurring warmth via ground and air source heat pumps. You can find out more about the project and how it works here.
“Since then the project has snowballed, and I’m delighted to say we’ve secured planning permission for the heat network and construction is set to start this Spring. Under our scheme, there are no upfront costs and households can expect their annual heating bills to come down if they make the switch”.
The scheme is intended to be funded by a combination of loans, grants and subsidies from Cambridgeshire County Council and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
The project will save over 47,000 tonnes in carbon emission over the lifetime of the energy centre and for these residents will make renewable heating affordable and accessible to all. “There are more than 40,000 villages in the UK, many reliant on oil” adds Mike. “Several other villages have expressed an interest in copying our scheme and we hope ours is the first of many to follow. Heat networks like ours will play a key role in the decarbonisation of heat, helping the UK reach net zero by 2050”.
Who or what inspires you to act on sustainability?
I'm inspired by nature and driven by the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis.
What advice would you give to others who want to act more sustainably?
Work out what you can DO locally; and make those changes – I planted trees with my uncle last year, this year I am looking at rewilding (a progressive approach to conservation) in our village.
What makes you optimistic about our goal of reaching net zero carbon by 2050?
You can see mindsets changing, people are becoming more willing to work and live in a better way.
And what’s your biggest concern?
The slow change of pace now. The longer we take, the worse climate change could be, so better to do those little changes now, even if they don’t seem to make any difference (they do they all add up!).
What do you think is the biggest un-tapped avenue for change?
In the UK, agriculture and land-use. Soil carbon can be an important sink for carbon and we have a real opportunity to change how we work with farmers to ensure managing natural capital is recognised and rewarded.
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