Ten years ago, Withington Church became the first church in England to be net carbon zero, and climate champion Matt Fulford was one of the driving forces behind it. Matt sits on the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) as its Technical Sustainability Advisor and runs the Energy Audit Programme for the Church of England nationally, as well as in the Diocese of Oxford.
Now, he’s living in Chedworth and has been helping both the church and the school move towards net carbon zero status.
We caught up with him to find out his hopes and his motivations.
Matt said, “My huge passion in life is to reduce carbon emissions. That’s the reason I get out of bed every morning. Through my business, I help all sorts of organisations reduce their emissions, but the two areas that I have got the most passion and expertise in are schools and churches.
“The actual solutions for churches are not technically complex. They are usually really simple, but there are surprisingly few people nationally who can give churches good advice about what they need to do. Working with churches, you need to throw away the classic engineering theory textbooks and go back to first principles. When and how is this building used? Does it need to be heated between those times? For example, in small rural churches, insulation often doesn’t matter very much. If there are seven days between one service and the next, the building isn’t going to retain the heat between services, no matter what insulation you use…”
Matt applied his knowledge and these principles to St Andrew’s Church in Chedworth to deliver a successful move away from oil to electric, improving the thermal comfort of the church and aligning to the Net Zero carbon agenda.
“The bits that make your heart beat fast at the end, are when you’ve got a solution for the church and they are more comfortable from a heating point of view, so people can enjoy services more and its inherently lower carbon and costs less – it’s magical and it’s so easy to do. When you can use your experience and knowledge to make everyone happy you get the satisfaction of a job well done.”
So what about Matt’s own home? Is that carbon neutral?
“We still have an oil boiler at home – in my home, it would be technically complex and quite costly to install a heat pump system. Sometimes when your existing boiler is working well and is efficient for what it is, replacing it before the end of its life can actually generate a higher carbon footprint through the manufacturing process.
“I do work hard though to minimise my carbon footprint. Every light bulb is LED and we have sophisticated controls. My diet is about 80 percent vegan and 20 percent vegetarian, I do not fly, I drive an electric car, and my 16-year-old daughter has inherited the passion! Caring for the environment is the fifth mark of mission and a very strong part of what being a Christian is about. I would love to see that being preached on more in churches and for it to feature more overtly in our schools’ values.”
As the former Chair of Governors at Chedworth Church of England School, Matt has been passionate about reducing the school’s carbon footprint too. Earlier in 2020, the government announced a Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme as part of the Covid recovery plans and Matt was straight off the mark to apply for the money to convert Chedworth School from an oil heated school to a net carbon zero school. The bid was successful and the £12,000 work has now been started with an estimated completion date of this spring.
The school will be installing solar panels to generate a large part of its electricity and will be topping up with 100 percent renewable energy during the winter. The money will also allow the school to finish installing LED lighting, to insulate the building with cavity wall, underfloor and ceiling insulation and put in new windows in the Victorian part of the school. They will also be using an air source heat pump to provide all the heating.
Matt said, “The UK’s agenda is to be net carbon zero by 2050. The Church of England has pledged to be there by 2030… and Chedworth Church and School will be there in 2021!
“I want what we are able to do here to be visible so that others across the globe can look at it and have confidence that they can also do it. I don’t mind if the people inspired by it are in Chedworth or in China.
“What we do and will have here is a really good example of what can do and what is possible NOW. There is a massive sense of urgency about the climate crisis.”