All Saints Carbon Reduction Project – case study

Tamzin Evershed shares the story behind All Saints Carbon Reduction project and their bid to gain funding from the energyshare website. From an original project looking at the church building they have developed a project to install Solar Panels on their community centre and fund the work that goes on there.

When we launched the All Saints Carbon Reduction project, we probably didn’t really think too much about what we’d let ourselves in for.  A long-standing eco-congregation,  in Wokingham, the eco-congregation team  had already done lots of great things to get our congregation more interested in green issues.  We’re blessed with a clergy team that doesn’t apologise for giving its congregation a proverbial kick up the backside about environmental issues,  and as an eco-congregation group in general we preach to the converted.  So, in 2010 the eco-congregation team decided to do something more challenging and kicked off a project focused on reducing the carbon footprint of the church buildings.

The idea of investigating renewable energies and energy conservation brought forward church members who had previously  been supportive, but had not shown an active interest in eco-congregation activity.  Just as women expecting their first babies find themselves noticing babies in the street for the first time, as a group we suddenly began to realize that we weren’t the only church to be thinking this way, but in fact were some way behind the curve of early adopters.  That said, our path has not been easy, and it has often required faith and determination to carry on.

We took a holistic view, and divided the project up into loose chunks of activity and research: solar panels, lighting, insulation, behavioural change and heating.  We then ran our plans tentatively past the PCC and got the go ahead to investigate further.  At each step we feared that we might meet objections, but fortunately none was raised.

We spoke to various suppliers and experts and got quotes for things like  low energy lighting systems.  That showed us that whatever we did, making an impact was not going to come cheap. Like many churches in these recessionary times, All Saints has a budget deficit, and we knew that solar panels and the like might be seen as an eccentric luxury.  As a result we were careful to emphasise that these measures would save money in the long run, as well as achieve our aim of demonstrating our commitment to caring for creation.  We were also careful to build on work already budgeted for and planned, to ensure that it was carried out with carbon reduction in mind.  We also were clear that aesthetics and design were important considerations. For example we hope eventually to install a lighting system that enhances our church and optimizes its use as well as reducing its carbon footprint.

The project was, and still is, so large, that prioritising our actions was tricky.  However, due to the fact that at the time the top rate of Feed in Tariff was due to be cut in April 2012, we realized that that time constraint meant that we should focus on the solar panels first.

Our first thoughts were to install solar panels on the church roof.  We’re a grade II listed Norman church, but internet searches showed us that a listing wasn’t in fact an insurmountable hurdle to a solar panel installation.  Knowing that was one thing, but seeing it with our own eyes was another, so we organized a visit to St. Michael and All Angels in Withington, Gloucester.  This was well worth it, not only because they have a wonderful example of a pellet boiler and solar panels on a listed church, but also because they have a truly marvelous pub just two minutes down the road.  We returned to Wokingham and engaged with the Council’s Conservation Officer and English Heritage to discuss our plans. We also got some solar panel quotes, although it was surprisingly difficult to get them.  Many companies told us that it was impossible to install solar panels on a grade II listed building, and we found ourselves having to convince them we could!

Another hurdle we knew we had to surmount was the fact that the church roof needed re-doing (despite several recent repairs, due to the lead disappearing in the middle of the night) and there was no point in putting solar panels on the roof if they would have to be removed for later roof repairs. Meeting the deadline of April 2012 looked increasingly unlikely.

Things looked bleak, but when one door shuts another one always seems to open.  As part of our research we  learnt that solar panels can be installed on non-South facing roofs and so we switched our focus from the church to the church’s community centre, the Cornerstone.

The Cornerstone was built in 2002 and was built with energy conservation in mind. It also has the advantage as a site for a solar installation that  it is not listed, and has a large surface area of roof.  We discovered that if we used the Cornerstone roof,  and got funding for it, we would generate a Feed in Tariff that would both pay for refurbishment of the facilities and leave us with extra money to fund much needed community projects.  The Cornerstone is in an area of extreme relative deprivation, and much of the work that All Saints does is in helping the community of Norreys ward, which is one of the most deprived areas in Britain. Whilst public funding was being cut and intermittent, we could see a new way of getting an index linked income for 25 years.

At about that time we also became aware of one of the few sources of grant funding  for solar panels. Although the Feed in Tariff and savings on energy bills would have paid for the panels in time, we didn’t have the capital sum to pay for them.  British Gas and River Cottage are offering the “ Energyshare”  grant of up to £100,000 to fund renewable energy projects that benefit the community.  The grant administration is run through a website www.energyshare.com.  Once we got into this process it really drove us according to its timetable.

There are three rounds. The first required us to get sufficient supporters signed up on the website to be in the top 100 of registered groups. We only had a month to do this, but managed it with just over 100 supporters. The second round was much more challenging.  Selection to be in the final round is based on a written application and the number of supporters registered on the website.  Following some pretty grueling work drumming up supporters and preparing a persuasive bid, we were delighted to find that we had been selected as one of 7 projects with a chance of 2 grants.

As part of our bid we have pledged to help those in fuel poverty in the Norreys ward reduce their energy costs, and apply for Government grants, using our solar installation and our own energy saving measures as real-life examples. We have also pledged to share our experience with other community buildings, so are happy to hear from any other churches who would like to pick our brains.

So, currently we are working hard to drum up votes to get that all-important funding.  It’s now votes that count, not supporters. Alongside the mainstream circulation of flyers, we’ve done a school assembly, addressed a convocation of eco-congregations and asked for help from a local Sikh temple.  We’re also hoping that members of the Earthing Faith network will help us and vote.  All you need do is go to www.energyshare.com/all-saints-wokingham and click “Vote Now”.  You will then be signed up as an energyshare member. You then need to go back to the voting page and press “Vote” again.  The process of sign up is downright confusing, but every vote counts and we know that based on the current number of supporters, if every supporter counts we stand a very good chance of getting that funding!

Tamzin Evershed is a member of All Saints’ Wokingham and coordinator of their Carbon Reduction project.

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