Ashton Hayes, a small town in England, is only a 30 mile car ride from Liverpool. But the people from Ashton Hayes would rather you take the train from Liverpool to Mouldsworth and then walk a mile. After all, traditional cars don’t exactly comply with climate neutrality, something the Ashton Hayes inhabitants aspire their whole village to be.
In return for twice the traveling time, you do get a wonderful view from the train through the sloping English landscape and a fine stroll along cottages and muddy farmland. At the village border a sign lures, expressing the climate neutrality aspiration of the village.
The carbon neutral initiative
It all started ten years ago, when Ashton Hayes inhabitant Gary Charnock went to a lecture about climate change. He was inspired by what he heard and decided to apply it on a smaller scale. Charnock thought that if he could convince his fellow villagers to make Ashton Hayes the first climate neutral village in the United Kingdom, that would be a proud achievement. He requested ten minutes of speech time during the village council to do his story. At the end of his story, everyone was delighted to support this idea.
Now, ten years later, Ashton Hayes has become a true force to reckon with in the world of climate neutrality and Charnock travels across the world to speak about his village.
The United Kingdom has gone through a rough patch this year. The referendum about leaving the European Union brought to light the division between rich and poor, city and province, people with high and low educations and finally, between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern-Ireland. However, 2016 was also the year when the Ashton Hayes inhabitants gained even more determination to accomplish their goal: to live completely free of CO2 emissions.
The success of Ashton Hayes
Roy Alexander is a Sustainability professor at the University of Chester, living in Ashton Hayes and the scientific backbone of the project. He puts his students to work in the village, researching the use of energy. He also makes sure that inhabitants get the right advice and tips how to minimize their energy use. According to Alexander the households in Ashton Hayes decreased their average use of energy with 40% in ten years.
The town’s soccer field is one of Ashton Hayes bigger achievements. The club needed a new place, but had no money whatsoever. The town had just received a large sum of subsidy, which it then used to build a sustainable clubhouse, constructed with sustainable wood and with solar panels on the roof. The clubhouse then turned into a showroom of comfort and possibilities.
How is it possible that Ashton Hayes is such a success in terms of climate neutrality? The New York Times even lent their front page to praise the town this year. To be fair, the technical solutions they apply are far from groundbreaking: solar collectors and solar cells, isolation and double glazing.
On the other hand, the wind turbine they placed was less of a success, unfortunately it wasn’t windy enough in Ashton Hayes. Also, they bought an electric car that the village inhabitants could use for free, but the people couldn’t get used to all of the buttons on the dashboard.
So how come Ashton Hayes is such a force in the climate neutral discussion? What makes countries like the USA and Norway show their appreciation and interest?
Gary Charnock admits that their technological reproach isn’t revolutionary. But he says that it’s striking because the village, as a rule, doesn’t allow political interference. The ministers from London that came to visit were only allowed to listen. Everything the people from Ashton Hayes do, springs from themselves and that is something that appeals to people. Charnock also states: “Our climate issues are important, but the result of our civil activism is that the town’s social cohesion is immense.
Until six years ago, the town had a supermarket, but it was facing heavy losses and closed down. This is just another example of the desertification of small businesses in the English rural area, and any country’s rural area really. Then, the town’s climate group thought up a plan, financed it, had the villagers buy a share and now the supermarket is once again, the shining center of the town.
The supermarket’s manager Deb Deynam explains the Community Shop’s success: “People come to find regional products and home-baked pies. They want to buy the newspaper and bicker about the front page. They long for the things that you simply can’t find at Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s. The Shop has a bunch of volunteers behind the cash register, buying in products and delivering groceries. They really appreciate to come into contact with other people like this.”
The plans for the upcoming years are already in print. The climate group founded an energy company and at some point wants to buy land, potentially for the placing of solar cells. Also, they think about the construction of low-energy starter homes or senior apartments.
In 2017 the attention of the climate group will first be directed towards The Golden Lion, the town pub that closed down a couple of years ago. The climate group wants to buy the building, renovate it and exploit it as a communal café. Or according to Roy Alexander: “Then, Ashton Hayes would have a social soul once again.”
This pub has quite recently been the subject of a heavily charged discussion. The members of the climate group saw their hard work and initiative going down the drain when the owner of the Golden Lion proposed a plan to turn the old pub into 5 houses with car park. None of the project group’s sustainable values would be taken into account with the redeveloping of the property. The discussion between the project group and the owner, as well as all the objection letters the Town Council received, resulted in Miller revoking his proposal.
It is unclear what will happen now, it is likely that the Golden Lion will be put on the market by the owner to prove that no party is interested in acquiring the property for business goals. Since the project group put the defense focus mainly on the econonomic value of the property, the failure of finding a buyer would pave the way for John Miller’s residential plans.