A closer look at the Mayor’s Climate Change Fund

Mayor Dave Hodgson with Borough Hall Solar Panels
Since 2009, the council has installed solar panels on a number of its buildings

Bedford Borough Council has recently re-encouraged organisations to apply for the Mayor’s Climate Change Fund.

A total of £480,000 has been allocated to the climate change fund until 2024, with £120,000 set aside for this financial year.

The Bedford Independent takes a closer look at the scheme.

How does it work?

The fund offers up to 50% match funding of between £5,000-£20,000 for improvements to community buildings that reduce carbon emissions and energy costs.

It’s up to the applying organisation to source the remaining funding, though councillors are free to contribute ward funds to projects as well.

In January 2010 when the scheme was first launched, the lowest funding limit was £10,000. But, following feedback, this was changed in the same year to the £5,000 figure which has operated during the fund’s life since.

Voluntary and community groups, not for profit organisations, registered charities, social enterprises, schools and parish councils can apply for funding.

The scheme’s advertised terms and conditions are designed to check the rigour of applications and ensure value for money.

A key element for a successful application is proving an estimated payback time of under 20 years from resultant energy savings. Each application is also assessed for the predicted reduction in carbon emissions created by the improvements.

As from the case study below, some of the application conditions also appear to be more akin to guidelines in practice.

Once an application is successful, the planned improvements must take place within 12 months.

Case Study: The Place Theatre.

The Bedford Players Trust, who run The Place Theatre, have been a successful recipient of the scheme on two occasions.

In 2012, over £7,500 was provided by the fund to help pay for the installation of air source heat pumps. This was estimated to save 2 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Even more recently, the Bedford Players Trust were awarded £9,610 to replace the theatre’s gas boilers with a hydro unit. The hydro kit takes thermal energy from the ambient air to produce hot water and heat the building.

The Place Theatre on Bradgate Road

The Bedford Players Trust were provisionally awarded the funding in October and the installation took place this Spring.

The Place Theatre’s chief operating officer, Rae Levene, said it took about six months from initial interest expressed to the installation of the hydro unit, although emphasised ‘it wasn’t a priority’ for the theatre initially.

While the climate change fund provided half the funding, the remaining half came from a Gofundme appeal, the organisation’s own accounts and the largest portion, a £3,500 donation, from the Bedford Drama Company.

Rae thanked all who had helped raise the remaining funds, particularly the Bedford Drama Company for its ‘generous donation’.

Read more: The Place Theatre issues public appeal to help fund eco-friendly energy switch

Support from the council team running the fund was ‘exceptional’, with ‘regular contact’ providing guidance through the application steps.

There was also a degree of flexibility with “three valid quotes for each improvement technology” condition not required.

This was because the Bedford Players Trust were keen to stick to long-standing and trusted local suppliers. Batchelors for the hydro kit and R. W. Knights Plumbers to handle the ‘substantial alterations’ needed to the building’s plumbing.

The aim of the improvement was to reduce the theatre’s dependency on gas to make it more environmentally friendly.

It was calculated that approximately 5-10 tonnes of CO2e will be saved by the switch to the hydro kit. CO2e collates different greenhouse gases together as a common unit and signifies the amount of CO2 which would have the equivalent emissions impact.

Fund’s Impact

Other places which have benefited from the scheme over the years include Stevington Village Hall, a number of Borough schools including Newnham Middle, and Stewartby Water Sports Club.

The scheme initially ran from 2010-2015 before being relaunched in 2020. Since 2019/20, there have been 44 expressions of interest and three successful projects completed.

During 2010-15, over £425,000 was provided to 40 successful applications. These included the installation of LED lighting, double glazed windows and photovoltaic panels.

Commenting on the scheme, Mayor Dave Hodgson said:

“Over the last decade we have reduced carbon emissions by over 60% across Council buildings, and we have pledged to become a carbon neutral council by 2030.

“We all know how important it is that we reduce our carbon emissions, and the Climate Change Fund helps support local organisations to make sustainable improvements to their buildings.

“If you know of a local parish council, local non-profit organisation, school or charity that is looking to reduce their carbon and save money on their energy bills, please encourage them to get in touch.”

The climate change fund also commands general local opposition party support.

Great Barford ward councillor, Phillippa Martin-Moran-Bryant, told the Bedford Independent:

“The Conservative Group support the Climate Change Fund. It is important that the Borough does everything it can to support the Government’s plan to cut 78% of emissions by 2035.

“I have visited the Place Theatre and seen the improvements first-hand, they were excited to be given this opportunity to reduce their emissions.

“I hope that more local community centres follow the lead of the Place Theatre, who have used this scheme not only to lower their carbon footprint but to also cut down their utility bills.”

Green Party councillors Lucy Bywater and Ben Foley, who both represent Castle ward, also view it as ‘positive locally’, even making community facilities potentially more comfortable to use.

Cllr Bywater said though that the fund “needs more publicising to hard to reach groups and it’s likely that raising the 50% of the money needed for a project is an obstacle for many, more than ever at the moment”.

Cllr Foley also noted that domestic energy use is one of the biggest contributors to emissions and Bedford’s older housing stock.

“The council needs to be proactive in making available advice and grant support for people to make their homes more energy efficient, to cut their bills, reduce fuel poverty and, in the process, make homes more comfortable in winter,” said Cllr Foley.

“Many people don’t know what they can do, how much money they can save or what help could be available.”

Local authorities have an important role to play after the scrapping of the government’s Green Homes Grant scheme earlier this year, added Cllr Bywater.

Read more: Special investigation: Green Homes Grant impact on local businesses

A council spokesperson said the climate change fund’s maximum 50% funding of a project was to ensure ‘as many community buildings as possible’ benefit from it with ‘meaningful support’.

“It also demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to the project and an ongoing drive to lower their carbon footprint.

“As well as providing match-funding via the Fund, the Council also signposts interested organisations to other potential funding sources to help them reach their goal.”

The Mayor’s climate change fund is open for applications all year round and more information can be found here.