Monday, 28 September 2009

Environmental Policy Interviews - Episode Three

Third in the series of mini interviews, Steve Taylor the original director of The Castle shares his views on the environmental policy.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Environmental Awards Update

I’ve come over all emotional! I’m on the train on my way up to a youth competition in Edinburgh. As one of the panelists that will review the Environmental Awards applications and help select the successful applications my mission this weekend will be read through the 24 applications that have been carefully researched and put forward. My first thought, I’ll be honest, was something like ‘ohmigod what have I let myself in for’. I even put off opening the folder containing all the application for a couple of hours.

Then I started reading the first one and my outlook completely chnaged. Whenever I see the words ‘climate change’ I’ve become used to associating it with awful news and a sinking depressive feeling that no one cares. Here, in this folder, were dozens of people proving me wrong...showing me that they do care and that they can do something about the problem. It wouldn’t be appropriate me for at this stage to comment on specific applications or to give too much away. All I will say is that I’m blown away by the quality of the applications. Whatever our final selection all I can say is that the money that we’ve saved up is going to be put to great use by very capable, creative and dedicated people.

People that work and climb (or just drink tea) at The Castle know that it is so much more than an indoor climbing centre. This is one of those moments when I’m so proud of what The Castle has become and feel fortunate to be part of it. Bit of a misty-eyed moment there...sorry about that!

More on this later. We’ll be announcing a shortlist of applications on the 15th of October and will have the projects on display at The Castle for you to vote on. Then the Panel will meet again before making it’s final decision on the 1st of November. We will be awarding the funds at a Press Event on Monday the 2nd of November. Stay Tuned!


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Environmental Policy Interviews - Episode Two

The second of our series of Environmental Policy interviews - Chief Route setter Mike Langley. Next week we will be hearing from Steve Taylor, the original director of The Castle.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Castle Garden Project

I've just started at the Castle to co-ordinate a garden project to make use of the lovely green space outside the centre. Whilst I've been climbing there these past couple of years, I've often thought about what could be planted out there; should I "guerilla" garden some fruit trees or sneakily throw around some vegetable seeds. Before I knew it, they launched an environmental policy part of which they want to make use of the garden for food growing.. and here I am. It is a very exciting project, and the ideas currently being collected will be part of a community effort between staff, members and the local community.

The initial vision for the garden is to create a food growing area and relaxation area based on
permaculture design principles and environmentally friendly methods such as re-using/recycling materials where possible, organic growing techniques and creating habitats for wildlife.

Some of the idea
s for food growing are to:
  • create a forest garden
  • create raised growing beds to grow fruit, vegetables and herbal teas for the Castle Cafe
  • use the abundant wall space to grow "climbing" and espaliered fruit trees and fruit bushes
  • mini plots for people to grow their own vegetables
  • gardening workshops for staff, members and local community
  • create wildlife areas such as a pond
  • bring in a bee keeper and bee hives and run bee-keeping courses
  • offer a small space to Growing Communities to be part of their "patchwork" farm to grow organic salads for their local box scheme in Stoke Newington. (Some Castle members may have already tried some of their delicious mixed salad leaves at the Castle cafe this week)
Of course this won't be done all at once - and not all by me! The idea is to start small, generate interest and a "gardening team" and start from there. This autumn and winter we will start with developing some areas. I will keep you posted.

I also work f
or Capital Growth A London wide campaign to help create 2012 new community food growing spaces by 2012. The Castle Garden has already registered to be part of this scheme and is space 102!

of re-using materials found at the Castle.

growing beds made by Ray last week at the Castle. We will be ordering some top soil and planting some green veg for winter soon...

Used Castle climbing rope for the Capital Growth display at the
Hampton Court palace Flower show in July this year - on the "freecycled" balcony. For other photos click here

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Sustainable Food

There’s growing awareness that a lot of our food comes with a big carbon footprint and there have been a couple of excellent programmes on TV recently highlighting the problem. Farm for the Future discusses how peak oil will affect UK farming
The Future of Food discusses food security both in the UK and worldwide.

Food accounts for roughly one third of the carbon footprint of the average person in the UK and that’s mostly from transport, petrochemicals used by farmers and heating for greenhouses. Local, organic food avoids most of these carbon emissions. So, we can actually reduce our personal contribution to climate change more easily by changing what we eat than by changing the way we travel and use energy at home. The Castle Café buys several tonnes of food every year and we’ve started to make changes to what we buy to make our food selection more sustainable. You may have noticed some of the improvements already.

Of course the most sustainable way of getting food is to grow it organically in your own garden. So that’s what we’re going to do. We have about an acre of garden at The Castle, which won’t be enough space to grow all the food currently supplied to the Café but, it could produce a significant proportion of it. Lots of us are very keen to get stuck in but we don’t have much experience. Luckily we know someone who does!

Ida Fabrizio climbs at The Castle so some of you will know her already. She works with several organisations that promote growing food, sustainably in London, including Sustain, Capital Growth and Growing Communities. She’s passionate about food and seems to have spent most of her life learning how to grow it. So we’re really lucky that, as of last week, Ida will be working at The Castle one day week to develop our garden into a sustainable food growing space. Of course, she won’t be able to do it on her own so her main focus will be organising all us willing, but inexperienced, volunteers to do the bulk of the work.

Look out for Ida’s post introducing what she’s got planned for us.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Low Energy Refurbishment

Seeing as it was me that started this environmental revolution at The Castle nearly a year ago, and given the amount and time and effort that everyone here has put in, it’s about time I owned up to what I’ve been doing to further the cause.

Well, I’ve been overseeing the whole process of making our business sustainable and continuing to learn as much as I can about what climate change means for us and what we can do about it. The climbing world is taking notice of our environmental commitment at The Castle. Last month I was interviewed by Es Tresidder for as part of an article about climbers and climate change. It’s a well presented piece which got a lot of responses. However, my main practical task is to turn this historic Victorian water pumping station into a low energy building. That’s not going to be easy because it was designed for a completely different purpose to the one it’s being used for now. The Victorians weren’t too worried about heating, draught-proofing or insulation. Retro fitting those items without damaging the original structure, all of which is subject to a Grade 2* listing by English Heritage, will be a challenge.

Earlier this year we commissioned a feasibility study, from a firm of specialist low energy building services consultants, to tell us what the potential is to both conserve energy and generate our own renewable energy at The Castle. The conclusions of the study were unexpected but very illuminating. For a start we’re using far more energy that we assumed and it looks like our options for replacing it with renewable energy generated on site are severely limited. So, not a great start, but I’ve learned a lot from the study so far and there is still hope that we can achieve our goal of a carbon neutral business. When I embarked on this project I tried not to have too many preconceived ideas but I confess that I thought it would be a question of spending a bit of money, tweaking a few of our operating procedures and emerging into a brightly lit new, eco friendly world. It’s not going to be quite that easy. In fact I don’t think we’re going to achieve our goals without a fundamental change in the way we think about energy, food and transport.

So, why are we using more energy than we thought? In short, we don’t know! We assumed that our energy usage would be fairly low because our operation is fairly clunky and down to earth with no unnecessary frills. However, it turns out that, we use twice as much energy per square meter a typical dry sports centre (i.e. one where playing in water isn’t the main focus). At first we wondered if it was a mistake or if one of our neighbours had tapped into our supply and was having a non-stop party at our expense. A far more likely explanation is that the centre has developed organically over fourteen years with extra electrical circuits and gas heaters added on when needed and a lot of our electrical equipment is old or second hand. It’s all been tested to make sure it’s safe but efficiency has never really been considered.

The feasibility study also gave us an indication of how much renewable energy we could expect to generate on site and the various technologies that we could use. Once all the practicalities have been considered this came down to a very short list.
1. We have a huge south facing roof so solar water heating and solar photovoltaic (PV) generation are viable but expensive.
2. Wind power is a possibility but it doesn’t tend to work well in unban areas and the listed status of our building will be a consideration. We’re investigating this option by monitoring wind conditions at roof level but the chances of it being viable are fairly slim.
3. Ground source heat pumps use warmth in the ground to bring low level heat into a building but they take power to pump the fluids round so they’re best thought of as very efficient electric heating rather than a renewable source of energy. We still need to get the electricity to run them from somewhere.
4. The remaining option is biomass heating using wood or plant oil as fuel in a boiler. A lot of businesses and even households are going down this route because it’s relatively cheap both to install and run, it’s seen as renewable and non polluting because the CO2 produced is equal to that absorbed by the plants as they grew and it’s seen as abundant. Unfortunately, I don’t see it that way. If we’re talking about someone living in a shack in a wood and burning coppiced timber for heating and cooking then biomass is a sustainable, low carbon fuel. Commercially, it’s nothing of the sort. The energy involved in transporting and processing the fuel represents up to two thirds of the energy released when it’s burned. All biomass produces particulates and toxins when it’s burned. Some are worse than others. But, my biggest problem with it is that it takes up agricultural land. In a world that’s running out of food (yes we are and Britain isn’t immune) using agricultural land to grow energy crops doesn’t make any kind of sense. This is bound to be a controversial view, and hope it starts a debate; however, we’re not going to be using biomass heating.

In short, solar power is our only reliable option for renewable energy, so how much of it can we produce? Maybe about one fifth of the energy we currently use! It’s going to take some serious efficiency measures to balance our energy use with our energy generation. But why would we need to do that? We’re a climbing centre not a power station. Surely, we can just convert everything over to electrical power and buy it from a 100% renewable source (which we already do) and then we’ll be carbon neutral, at least as far as energy’s concerned, won’t we? Technically, that’s probably true but do you honestly think that approach would be sustainable if everyone took the same attitude, using as much energy as they want as long as the power company tells you it’s green? There’s lots of scope for debate on this issue as well but this approach doesn’t make any sense to me.

I believe we need to drastically reduce our energy consumption to get as close as possible to the amount of energy we can produce ourselves and then source the remainder intelligently. A typical approach to reducing energy consumption would be to examine all our areas of energy consumption and make them as efficient as we can. I intend to take the opposite approach and completely rethink our energy use buy considering what we need to run the centre and not basing it on what we do now. I think that’s the only way we’ll find out how efficient we can get. This may sound radical and unmanageable but once we have a plan we’ve given ourselves five years to implement it so it doesn’t have to mean ripping the place apart and putting it back together again all in one go.

Generating our own energy gives us some resilience to supply interruptions and price fluctuations. Teaming up with some of our neighbours to share resources would bring even greater local resilience and this is something we can try to do as the project progresses, but how do we source the remainder of our energy needs intelligently? Well, we can buy our energy from a 100% renewable supplier, which we already do. We also need to support the development of national infrastructure which will allow large scale, efficient renewable energy generation to be made available to everyone. This support could take the form of offsetting some of the carbon emissions we can’t reduce any more (once we’ve done all we can) by supporting appropriate renewable generation schemes. This is something we’re going to look into.

The first practical step at The Castle is to install a monitoring system so that we can see where all our energy is going in real time and develop an understanding of what functions use the most energy and how that can be improved. Then we’ll be in a position to design something better. The monitoring system will be installed this month and we’re taking the opportunity to record gas and water use plus internal temperatures with the same system.

I’ll let you know what we learn from the monitoring programme and what we intend to do next.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Environmental Policy Interviews - Episode One

We will be running a series of mini-interviews with staff at The Castle. We've asked them how our Environmental Policy has affected their work here and whether it has altered their personal life as well. Here in the first of our series, we spoke to Managing Director, Audrey Seguy. Next week, we'll be speaking to our Chief Routesetter Mike Langley.

If you have any questions about the environmental policy and what changes we are making- just drop us a line. Audrey would be happy to hear from you at