First Eco-Street for Cumbria

Residents of Arthur Street in Penrith are celebrating this week as they look forward to saving money and saving the environment with the help of the Cumbria Sustainable Communities Project and Defra's Environmental Action Fund.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley has recently confirmed over £2 million pounds worth of funding nationwide to support projects looking at sustainability. One of the organisations helping communities to benefit from the investment is Eden Local Agenda 21, who are this year receiving a second instalment of £69,910 from the Environmental Action Fund out of a total grant worth £219,407 over three years. In England 35 voluntary organisations have received grants worth £6.75 million in total.

Arthur Street is one of five pilots in the Cumbria Sustainable Communities Project, which is part of Eden Local Agenda 21's wider DEVICE programme.

As part of the project David and Rachel Coulson-Lowes and their children Jonathan, 7, and Samuel, 1 are now proud owners of a new Solar Thermal water-heating system, which they had installed free of charge as the lucky winners of a prize draw open to neighbours who filled in an energy efficiency questionnaire designed by the Cumbria Energy Efficiency Advice Centre (CEEAC).

Two more lucky households also received subsidised solar water heating systems, partly funded by Scottish Power Plc, as part of the same scheme.

Arthur Street residents were asked to complete CEEAC's energy questionnaires, noting features such as loft, cavity wall and water cylinder insulation; double glazing; draught proofing; methods of room and water heating; and energy efficient light bulbs.

CEEAC then assessed their answers and provided each household with a certificate, indicating the current energy effectiveness rating of their home and describing free or cheap measures that could easily be introduced to improve their score. Crucially, the certificates also quantified the reductions in CO2 emissions that would result from householders implementing measures recommended by CEEAC.

The residents' enthusiasm for saving energy is being supported with free or subsidised resources, including low energy light bulbs, hot water cylinder jackets, reflective radiator panels, draught proofing for external doors, loft and cavity wall insulation. Residents are being encouraged to further reduce their CO2 emissions by switching to green electricity suppliers.

Rachel Coulson-Lowes, winner of the Solar Thermal Heating System, says,

"Our family had been interested in installing an environmentally friendly heating system anyway, so we were thrilled to win this one in the prize draw after filling in the energy audit.

"The system was installed just before Christmas and certainly seems to be efficient in using available sunlight to heat the water, even in winter. CEEAC have estimated that the solar panel's contribution to our hot water needs will lead to a 25% saving on our gas bill. We hope to be able to turn off our gas central heating boiler from April for the summer months.

"Several of the other residents of Arthur Street and the neighbouring area have already shown an interest in the solar panel. We hope schemes like this will encourage more and more people to think about how they can help the environment through sustainable living."

Richard Suddaby, Project Officer at Eden Local Agenda 21 and co-ordinator of the Cumbria Sustainable Communities Project explains that the programme is helping to tackle global issues from a local angle:

"The project encourages communities to act together to make lifestyle choices and undertake activities that benefit the environment at a grass roots level, focusing on the imaginative and sometimes unique small projects that make a difference, and which communities and individuals can easily implement themselves.

"We are thrilled with the enthusiasm with which the residents of Arthur Street and the other communities have responded to the challenge to make their homes and localities greener. The project has had tremendous support from delivery partners such as CEEAC, Cumbria County Council, Voluntary Action Cumbria and Churches Together in Cumbria."

Environment Minister Elliot Morley said:

"I am very pleased to continue supporting Voluntary and Community Sector groups such as Eden Local Agenda 21 under the Environmental Action Fund, and delighted to see how this project has developed and produced such worthy results. It illustrates the vital role local communities have in securing a more sustainable future for all.

"It is exactly these kinds of local efforts that add up to make a big difference, and are helping us to achieve our target of reducing CO2 emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2010.

"I congratulate all those involved in making this happen and of course the winners of this competition; I hope they enjoy their new solar water heating systems."

The other Cumbrian communities involved in the pilot scheme are Grasmere, Kirkby Lonsdale, Brampton and Esthwaite. Their activities vary according to characteristics of the local environment and the approaches of the different community groups, each of which has its own professional adviser.

In Grasmere for example, residents decided to improve the biodiversity of their local environment by targeting the invasive Japanese Knotweed, which was colonising nearly 200 sites in the Valley. They secured additional support and funding themselves, researched knotweed sites and employed a contractor to carry out a large scale spraying and eradication programme.

Other initiatives have included schemes such as car sharing; litter picking events; and 'junk-swap' days, where residents put out unwanted items to be taken-up by neighbours who would have uses for them. New homes were found for a range of items from children's toys to tins of paint, thereby reducing waste.

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