EARTHWORKS Trust, an environmental education charity based in Hampshire, is leading by example as it presses ahead with an ambitious £1.25 million eco-refurbishment of a derelict building wing to provide additional residential accommodation for visitors to the Sustainability Centre.
Work on the South Downs Eco Lodge project began in March just a day before the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect and was forced to be postponed until the end of April when Government guidance on how to work safely on building sites was issued.
Centre CEO Christine Seaward said:
“Having spent a year on the design and planning of the refurbishment it was frustrating but understandable that work needed to cease before it even got started. We were forced at the same time to take the decision to close the centre to the public and have lost all of our income from bookings for our programme of courses, accommodation and our annual South Downs Green Fair which attracted more than 3,000 last year.”
In the wake of the lockdown, numerous charities have taken a severe hit to their ongoing operational viability just like other businesses.
“Having furloughed most of our staff we were faced with a tough decision of whether to put the refurbishment work on hold or resume work in the face of an uncertain economic landscape but when less disruption to visitors would be caused. The Trustees decided to press on as they felt we had the opportunity to lead by example in post-crisis climate action.”
In early July the Government began to respond to the numerous calls from environmental charities, activists and the public, perhaps all of whom had noticed an improvement in air quality during the lockdown, for a package of new investment measures to be introduced designed to help the UK ‘Build Back Better’ and create thousands of new green collar jobs.
Chair of the Trustees, Jeff Lane commented:
“Environmental protection is at the very heart of all the fantastic activities we provide at The Sustainability Centre. We felt continuing with the refurbishment work was essential to help demonstrate that there is a better way for the UK economy to emerge from the economic downturn it now inevitably faces.”
Architect, Tony Cohen said:
“The creation of eleven new high-quality bedrooms with en-suite facilities is essential to meet the growing demand for eco-tourism and residential courses capacity in support of the charity’s programme of education for schools and enterprise for self-reliance. The refurbished wing will also provide temporary office accommodation while the charity raises funds to transform the main building on-site into an amazing New Learning Centre retrofitted to stringent PassiveHaus standards.”
The charity was adamant that it wanted to refurbish its existing 1960’s MOD accommodation at the former HMS Mercury site rather than demolish and replace with new buildings.
“There is so much locked in carbon dioxide emissions in the original structure that refurbishment was evidently the right approach”. Millions of existing energy-inefficient buildings in the UK will require retrofitting if the UK Government is to achieve its self-imposed legal ambition of achieving net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.
Cohen asserts that:
“The Centre has made a bold and green statement by placing itself on the trajectory to net zero, something quite remarkable given their limited resources.”
Project Manager, Paul Ciniglio said:
“The refurbishment project is a true exemplar. The building will be heated by a Ground Source Heat Pump with a borehole array totalling over a kilometre in length. A 100m2 of solar photovoltaic cells on the south, east and west slopes of the new pitched roof will generate clean electricity for use on the site.”
These are just part of a complimentary package of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures incorporated in the retrofit that extends to ventilation with heat recovery, triple glazing, 200mm thick natural wood-fibre external wall insulation behind locally sourced cedar cladding.
“All the building materials and finishes have been painstakingly selected to have as low an environmental impact as possible throughout their life.”
The Government has recently announced £3bn of grants to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes and public buildings.
“While this is welcome, it’s only a quick fix cash injection and nowhere near what is needed to kickstart the green economic recovery. I would argue that a more positive step would have been for the Chancellor to reduce the rate of VAT applied to energy-efficient retrofit to zero percent permanently. The current system of VAT means that retrofitting an existing building attracts VAT, whilst new housing is exempt from VAT. The unintended consequence of this disparity actively encourages a ‘knock it down and start again’ approach.
“The environmental aspirations for the future of this existing dilapidated building are more ambitious than the majority of the new homes currently being built that benefit from zero VAT. It seems wrong that Earthworks Trust are having to pay VAT when they are clearly trying to do the right thing here.”
CEO Christine concludes:
“As we reflect on the economic devastation caused by COVID-19, businesses and charities of all shapes and sizes have a unique opportunity to seize the initiative and innovate in the face of the climate challenges we face. Perhaps there will never be such a good opportunity to integrate change. Many of us are emerging from the lockdown with challenges, but opportunities too. Like many local enterprises, our charity is affected by the loss of income that comes from being closed down for the past few months. Many of our schools will not be back until next year and our campsite, lodge and café have been unable to welcome people to stay or to even have a cup of coffee, let alone come to one of our events or courses.
“I am an optimist – I am always looking for the gift in the challenge – the silver lining in the cloud. The Sustainability Centre and what we are involved with here is mostly just on pause for a bit. It will be much needed when this is over to re-build healthier connections and inspire a different way of living. We have all had a chance to re-calibrate our priorities and see what we really value and need. I hope that many more people will find out about us, get involved, become inspired to do something different and better benefitting themselves, our community and The Earth too – making positive change possible.”