The blog

Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger specialising in sustainability, old houses, housebuilding and traditional and modern building materials. He is the co-author of Old House Handbook and the companion volume Old House Eco Handbook.

The Ashden Awards

The Ashden Awards

Over the years I’ve sat through a good many awards ceremonies but few, if any, have been as inspiring as last week’s Ashden Awards for sustainable energy. There was none of the hype or greenwash often associated with sustainable solutions; just ordinary people, or rather I should say extraordinary people, with good ideas and the get up and go to see them through.

Most notable among them was Suraj Wahab Ologburo who accepted the coveted gold award in the international category and who won the hearts of the audience with a humbling description of the founding of Toyola Energy in Ghana. Most families in Ghana’s cities cook on smoky stoves and spend a big slice of their income on charcoal. Five years ago he started up Toyola and has since sold around 154,000 efficient and affordable charcoal stoves to low-income families, 75 per cent of whom buy the stoves on credit and use savings on charcoal to pay cash back. Every year the stoves save about 26,000 tonnes of charcoal and around 150,000 tonnes of CO2.

Other international winners included two Indian companies; one turning crop waste into fuel pellets to replace fossil fuels, the other using rice husks to produce electric power on a village scale. A project in Pakistan improves health, saves trees and makes homes warmer by improving wood burning stoves, while an organization in Africa brings electricity to rural locations with simple, affordable and robust solar kits.

Such initiatives are changing peoples lives in a way that it is hard to appreciate in the UK. We don’t have to see our children do their school work by the light of stinking kerosene lamps. Nor do we have to walk many hours to charge a mobile phone.

This should not belittle the five UK winners. Their achievements are just as great, it is simply that the context is very different. The gold award went to Radian. This south east England housing association is “leading the way in retrofitting hard-to-treat homes and building eco homes that far exceed the current minimum standards for energy efficiency; consequently nearly 44,000 residents are enjoying the benefits of lower fuel bills and cosier homes”.

The other UK winners were the Centre for Alternative Technology, which inspires thousands to live and build sustainably; Midland Wood Fuel, which provides top quality wood fuel from sourcing to delivery; Severn Wye Energy Agency, which helps students take control over energy saving in schools; and Transition Together, Transition Town Totnes. This organisation has brought together 56 groups of neighbours so far – involving over 1,100 people – and helped them adopt habits to save carbon and cash.

What’s particularly important about the Ashden Awards is that they focus on what happens to an organisation after winning an award as well as before or during. Set up in 2001 to champion practical, local energy solutions that cut carbon, protect the environment, reduce poverty and improve people’s lives, these awards deserve greater recognition. They have, after all, already rewarded and supported more than 120 winners across the UK and the developing world.

Image credit: The Ashden Awards

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SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

Materials testing

Materials testing

New techniques and materials aimed at producing low carbon solutions mean this is an exciting time to be involved with new build and retrofit. There are dangers though, in the rush to innovate there may be failures along the way so it’s vital that there’s scrupulously testing and monitoring at all stages. This is why…

Hidden London

Hidden London

Impending development often means there is a chance to step back in time because archaeological investigation may be undertaken as part of the work. This is especially true in London where layers of history have been laid down by successive generations as the city has evolved. Visiting Barratt London’s Landmark Place site close to the…

SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700 Tweet

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

Renovation tale – Part 1

Renovation tale – Part 1

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… On the table is the surveyor’s report; yellow Post-it notes stick from its pages in such profusion that they no longer have any relevance. Phrases like “needs attention”, “must be thoroughly overhauled” and “a fair amount of dampness” are highlighted by marker… Continue Reading