Reepham - a pioneer of green living

Elaine MaslinHow would a small Norfolk market town go about winning and then spending nearly �1million on a wholescale eco-revamp of everything from its schools and churches to a historic railway line?Reepham, just 12 miles north west of Norwich, is doing it.Elaine Maslin

How would a small Norfolk market town go about winning and then spending nearly �1million on a wholescale eco-revamp of everything from its schools and churches to a historic railway line?

Reepham, just 12 miles north west of Norwich, is doing it. Reporter Elaine Maslin found out how.

With a population under 3,000 and genteel Georgian architecture fronting its picturesque market square, Reepham is a quiet idyll.

Do not be fooled. Reepham is a small town making big waves reaching the likes of Whitehall and beyond.

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It has been given nearly �1million from the government's Low Carbon Communities Challenge (LCCC) to spend on a wholescale low energy make-over of the town as part of a plan to make it one of the first so-called Low Carbon Communities in the UK.

The cash will be split between 20 groups and organisations, funding everything from a biomass boiler at a preservation railway line and ground source heat pumps in the town's churches to the world's first electric minibus for the town's high school - all during the next six months.

It is a massive turnaround for a town that just over five years ago had one of the poorest carbon ratings - with per capita carbon emissions estimated at a staggering 48pc above the national average.

What makes the massive grant more impressive is that Reepham is the only community in the East of England to win any of the LCCC cash and of the 22 communities picked across the UK it is one of the smallest but has been given the most.

It will make a huge difference not only to the town but also to many of the 20 individual organisations involved.

'It is certainly the way forward, it has got to be,' said Nick Bundock, chairman of the charity-run Bircham Centre, an aging Georgian and partially Elizabethan building, which was sorely in need of a cash boost.

Their chunk of the �950,000 will pay for 17 new radiators to replace the aging electric heaters it has, as well as secondary glazing for regularly used rooms and energy efficient lighting.

It will make the building more energy efficient, cheaper to run and reduce the town's carbon footprint.

Other projects include a wind turbine for the high school, LED lighting for the town's street lights, new allotments to meet a the demand of a 70 strong waiting list, solar panels on public buildings and refurbishing housing trust homes, to name a few.

'It has taken off,' said Mr Bundock. 'Reepham has become a model community for how everyone can work together on low carbon schemes.

'It should make a huge difference.'

The reason this Norfolk town was singled out is that in five years it has gone from being a town with some of the poorest carbon credentials to being a pioneer of green living.

The carbon audit revealed biggest problems were poor insulation of homes - only eight per cent were properly insulted - use of heating oil and reliance on personal cars for transport.

As a result a project to get homes properly insulated was launched, �200,000 was spent trialling biofuel as an alternative to heating oil and a community low-emission car club has been set up - creating the first county-wide car club in the UK.

They were just three of the projects the town's Green Team, formed from a working group of the town council, has carried out working alongside other agencies including the UEA and Norfolk County Council.

Leading the project has been explorer Rex Warner.

He once undertook a 6,000 mile, six month journey across the North Pacific on a bamboo raft. The crew were living a truly sustainable lifestyle, using solar power, recycling and fishing to keep alive.

'The good news is you don't have to live on a bamboo raft in the middle of the stormy North Pacific to create low carbon communities and live more sustainable lifestyles,' says Rex.

'Here in Norfolk, over the last five years, Reepham has developed and delivered an integrated approach to creating a low carbon community.'

Next on his list is working on the town's domestic properties, reducing the carbon footprint and fuel poverty in the town.

Trevor Bevan, retiring chairman of Reepham's Town Council, said: 'Reepham's remarkable achievement is not an instant success but the result of several years of hard work on the part of many town residents.

'Now many public buildings, community groups and charities within the town are to benefit.'

And soon the rest of the UK could benefit from the example Reepham is setting.