Buying into a greener world

AFTER a career giving financial advice and selling life insurance Ros Lavington is still trying to get people to buy – but this time it involves the purchase of an idea.

The idea is that we are individually and collectively responsible for living in a way which is environmentally sustainable.

The payback from investment in the “green premiums”, she says, could be the survival of planet Earth.

“It is a form of life assurance - because if we don’t change the way we live we are going to become like one of those planets that may once have had Earth-like conditions but are now uninhabitable.

“When you are selling life insurance it is about getting someone to own the idea and it is the same with the idea of sustainability – once people can take ownership of the issue they can move it forward,” said Ros who is the driving force behind Green Sproughton, a group set up by the parish council, mainly to reduce the village’s carbon footprint.


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She was recently declared a community hero in the Suffolk - Creating the Greenest County awards, winning the category jointly with Guy Ackers, the architect of the county’s comprehensive hedgerow survey.

Ros, 64, was born in London but spent most of her working life in Manchester before moving to Suffolk with her husband, Simon, 24 years ago.

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Now she devotes much of her energy to Green Sproughton which, on behalf of the parish council, spearheaded a major project to make the local tithe barn, a Grade II listed building given to the village in 1979, a cosier and more attractive venue for local activities.

The barn had been used for indoor, bowls, badminton and “short tennis” but its chilly, dark interior meant that it was unsuitable for social events, except in the heat of summer, and parish councillors were at one time considering whether to sell it to a developer.

Ros, working on behalf of the parish council, was successful in obtaining a �50,000 grant from the People’s Millions, a National Lottery fund, and �20,000 from Suffolk Environmental Trust in order to create a meeting room, kitchen and new toilets in part of the barn.

The new meeting room became the venue of a series of talks and one of the first was by an organisation called Carbon Sense which put forward data on the global rise in carbon dioxide emissions and temperatures.

As a result of that talk, a new panel of the parish council was set up called Green Sproughton and Ros was successful in applying to the East of England Development Agency under its Cut Your Carbon campaign, emerging with an �83,000 grant towards the cost of insulating the whole barn, a further �30,000 coming from the Green Suffolk Fund.

As the insulation was installed, new, glazed doors were created to allow daylight into the barn. The result has been increased usage by a local community which, as a result of being able to see into the barn as they pass, is now more aware of its asset. Annual income from the barn has risen from about �2,500 a year to about �12,000.

Sproughton Parish Council became the first parish council in Suffolk to sign up to the Nottingham Agreement, committing itself to cut carbon emissions.

Green Sproughton, under the guidance of Ros and the group’s enthusiastic chairman, Peter Lee, has also been responsible for initiating a project which involves an annual survey of the village’s carbon footprint and efforts to reduce it. Thirty volunteers go door-to-door asking people to complete the survey and collecting the forms.

One significant opportunity to reduce the community’s carbon footprint has been created with the recent opening of a community shop, in part of the tithe barn. This will allow local people to buy local produce and avoid car journeys to supermarkets on the edge of Ipswich, often to buy produce which has been shipped or flown across the world.

Ros does not have the “hair shirt” attitude of some environmentalists, arguing that people still have to enjoy their lives, but she and Simon try to be as environmentally friendly as possible at home.

Solar panels provide hot water for the house – formerly three labourers’ cottages – in Sproughton’s High Street while a wood burner burns pellets made with wood-shavings from a Mencap workshop.

Water from taking a shower and washing hands in the bathroom is collected and used to flush the loo while the central heating is kept at a reasonable level “and we wear lots of clothes”.

If she boils more water in the kettle than is immediately needed Ros pours the surplus into a thermos so that it can retain heat for use later.

“There are one thousands and one ways we use energy these days without really noticing it. For instance, do we really need to have the time displayed on microwave ovens and washing machines? Do we really need to walk around the house with telephones which used to be plugged in to the wall but now need batteries to remain active? Do we really need to use a remote control to change the television channel while we sit on our backsides” said Ros who believes her interest in green issues is instinctive.

“However, the real catalyst for me becoming environmentally active was hearing the talk by Carbon Sense,” Ros said.

Ros cycles around the village. She and Simon have discussed dispensing with their only car but decided to hang on to it - partly so Ros can get to the singing sessions at Belstead she so enjoys. The journey is nigh impossible by public transport.

Ros and Simon have reached a compromise on air travel. Previously they flew regularly to a holiday home on the island of Cyprus. However, they have now sold the property and their only air travel is to see their youngest daughter in Australia. “I’m not going to give up what I call my love miles,” Ros said.

She believes that people should live by their own environmental code but try to influence others to “buy into” the idea of sustainability.

Ros and many other volunteers do stints behind the counter at Sproughton’s new community shop which is open from 7.45am till 1pm and from 3pm till 6pm on weekdays, on Saturdays from 9.30am till 12.30pm and on Sundays from 10am till 1pm.

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