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Shrewsbury opens its green doors

The UK Government is committed to cutting 80% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – since 50% of our energy is used by our buildings, and 25% by our homes, the target is for every home to be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2050. In Shrewsbury this equates to 2,000 homes being refurbished each year for the next 37 years, saving 60,000 tonnes of CO2e each year in the process.

Looking aroundFor some houses, mainly new ones, this may mean little more than signing up to a green energy tariff, however for the majority this will mean serious refurbishment – 20% ofUK homes were built before 1919, have solid walls, single-glazing, and open fire places.

But it’s not just that old houses are responsible for at least 10% of the UK’s energy use and emissions, or that an estimated 80% of these houses will still be around in 2050, it is also about energy price rises, fuel poverty, and thermal comfort, which for most people are the real drivers in wanting to make changes to their homes.

The changes in our climate have been caused by profligate energy use and waste, and it is by curbing energy use and significantly reducing waste that we will alleviate climate change. Such was the era of cheap North Sea oil that we became extravagant, our houses neglected in favour of slipping on a t-shirt and turning up the thermostat.

What to do?

It was with this in mind that Claus and I re-awakened the Transition Town Shrewsbury Building Group in 2011, and began by planning a Shrewsbury Open Doors event for 2012, like that which my friend Kate had organised in Bristol, and Claus was involved with through the national Superhomes network.

Whats going on We had naively intended to give our time voluntarily, but hadn’t appreciated the work involved, and were thankfully fortunate enough to attract funding through the Local Energy Assessment Fund (a Green Deal promotional pre-cursor), administered by Marches Energy Agency – with the condition that we featured 5 houses on Coton Hill Crescent that were having work funded by the scheme.

We were thus able to produce and print good promotional material, and have 5 extra properties to add to our already broad range gathered from friends and associates. Our 22 properties included Georgian detached and Victorian terraced houses, 1930s semis, and brand new eco-houses and barn conversions –Bristol, six times the size of Shrewsbury, only had twice as many homes open!

The weekend turned out to be one of the warmest and sunniest of the entire year. We managed at least 100 separate visitors (even with contact/feedback sheets at every house it’s hard to tell), but wondered how many others had favoured a barbecue and a beer in the garden – it was hardly the ideal weather for appreciating thermal efficiency measures...

It was however deemed a very successful event, fulfilling the functions of promoting energy efficiency and local trades/suppliers as anticipated, but also providing an independent forum for those who were aware of the issues, but nervous of the practicalities and wary of biased information given by salesmen.

We decided right away to do it all again in 2013, but of course we’d learn from mistakes, we’d get the printing done earlier, promote more, reach more people, have more houses open, and no doubt enjoy twice as many visitors...

2013 SGD flyerYear 2...

Again we assumed we’d have to give most of our time voluntarily, but realised that we’d need to raise some funds in order to cover printing costs at least, and figured a few select local businesses would be inspired to contribute by the worthiness of the event and potential reach of advertising.

However we got lucky again, again through MEA, who were now administering DECC funding to cover events to promote the Green Deal and local suppliers/trades in Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Telford & Wrekin – and during the time frame we were the only one!

The £4,500 enabled us to spend more time and money on promotional materials including banners (not dated!), but also to put systems in place that will benefit the event going forward when we may not have funding, such as a more functional website and better organised database of media contacts, local traders, and existing and potential SGD homeowners.

I rent my house and am therefore frustratingly unable to carry out the energy efficiency work I advise, and since feedback from last year clearly indicated the need for non-partial advice, our increased funding also enabled me to set up a SGD HQ at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust with me in it as a ‘Green Buildings Expert’ or similar, as well as providing a central point for information on our houses and local eco businesses.

We lost some houses for various reasons, but also gained a couple more, and so in total were able to open a perfectly respectable total of 18 doors, and generally broaden our portfolio, fill in a couple of geographical gaps, and extend our reach. All was set up for another fantastic event!

And then it snowed. A lot. Meteorologically, it was as different from last year as it could possibly have been in the UK. One property was cut-off, and you’d be forgiven for thinking at least another two would have been. This affected visitor numbers somewhat.

SGD headquartersWe managed in total a maximum of 50 diehard visitors – one might easily imagine that this number represents a quarter of those we might have had otherwise. One guy suggested to me at SGD HQ that at least we wouldn’t get so many ‘tyre kickers’ (who for the record we’re more than happy to entertain!), a case of quality over quantity, and it is certainly true that all of our visitors were very interested, with lots of questions, and many had particular projects at the forefronts of their minds – I had 12 visitors to SGD HQ over two days, but spent very little time not talking to anyone.

Comments were again positive, such as they were, and an estimated 1000 people picked up our Map & Guide, and so since the need has diminished none we will be putting on the event again next year, undeterred and undaunted!

And the future?

We hope to keep all of the properties that we have, as well as adding to them – we need more houses from the 1950s onwards, as well as homes that have made simple, affordable alterations. If people are nervous or shy about opening their house, they could be stationed at one of the other houses to answer questions, and enjoy the neighbourliness that goes along with the event.

I want to take this opportunity to thank our Homeowners once again, it’s a shame that we were so weather affected and I do hope it hasn’t put any of you off – this is a great thing that you are doing! If you’re reading this and would like to open up your house next year, then please don’t be shy, homes with any improvements at all are welcomed, however small you may think they are, please contact me via the SGD website.

Since we’re unlikely to be so lucky for the third year running, we will also be looking for funding, so all those that this might concern please give it some consideration!

We hope to see you all in some capacity next year, and would be eternally grateful if you could cross your collective fingers for the weekend to be about 10 degrees, southeast veering southwest 4 or 5, overcast but mostly dry, visibility moderate or good. Thanks.

James Smith is the Transition Town Shrewsbury Building Group Co-convenor, as well as the entertainments group, running regular film nights and Transition get togethers.

Photos: Some of the visitors being shown around a property, having a look at the Shrewsbur Green Doors map of the city, the 2013 green doors flyer and this years Headquarters at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

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