A conference with the unique focus of ‘How do we make Cheltenham’s pre-1919 buildings Greener’ attracted 60 experts on Thursday 20th November to University of Gloucestershire’s Park Campus. Up for debate and discussion were the problems users of Cheltenham’s finest buildings – houses, churches, theatres, etc. – have in keeping warm but how to do this without destroying the buildings unique character.

So wall insulation, double glazing, draught proofing, heat pumps, solar panels and more were all on the agenda, as were Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas. Opening the conference, Rachel Coxcoon of Centre for Sustainable Energy, Bristol, described work done in Bath to tackle these issues and suggested it was now time to focus on the needs of Cheltenham.

Heritage conservation used to be controversial area with little agreement between those trying to protect the heritage and those keen to reduce carbon emissions. But Matt Fulford, Inspired Efficiency & Technical Sustainability advisor to the Diocese of Gloucester, thought that this conflict had melted away in the last 10 years as energy prices had risen and climate change was accepted as fact. Other speakers from English Heritage, Cheltenham BC and Oxford all gave practical examples of how older buildings can be sensitively adapted to meet modern needs.

We were told by Dr Robyn Pender, English Heritage, that the secret was to understand the heritage qualities and sustainability performance of the buildings. Many older buildings were more energy efficient than the more recent building stock. Often quite modest, yet correctly implemented, interventions would greatly improve performance at no great expense whilst fully respecting the architectural qualities of the building. Karen Radford, Heritage and Conservation Manager from Cheltenham Borough Council confirmed this view and gave practical examples of how much older buildings can be more energy efficient than those built during the 1960s and 1970s.

There is much good published and on-line advice on how to upgrade the energy performance of older buildings but too little of this is getting to the owners who need it. Examples were given where insulation was done to a poor standard whilst also damaging heritage features such as removing external cornices that would have directed water away from the walls.

Winding up the conference, Adrian Phillips, the outgoing chair Cheltenham Green Doors co-sponsors of the event, said, “There were many proven solutions available yet finding the relevant information is not easy. Advice is far too fragmented. What many owners want most are estimates of implementation costs with likely payback times.” Adrian then suggested actions that could be undertaken to improve matters in Cheltenham; he called for a publication, Warmer Cheltenham, to help homeowners understand the issues and the solutions, also a Civic Society award scheme for exemplary work in making old buildings more sustainable and thirdly how could existing advice and practical experience be better shared.

The conference was convened by Cheltenham Green Doors (CDG) and the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), assisted by Vision 21 Gloucestershire, and supported by grants from the Summerfield Trust and Cheltenham Borough’s Community Pride scheme.  

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