Schools show passion for the planet during SustFest22

We are so delighted that, once again, schools in St Albans, Harpenden and the villages have thrown themselves into eco activities for the district’s annual Sustainable Schools Week, part of the wider Sustainability Festival (SustFest). 

Our guest blog comes from Caroline, Katharine and Nicola, volunteers from our Sustainable St Albans Sustainable Schools Group. The group supports local district schools all year round and encourage schools to get involved in the annual SustFest Sustainable Schools Week.

Hundreds of children aged between 4 and 18 from all over the district got involved with this year’s festival.  The special Sustainable Schools Week ran from 23rd – 27th May. It gave schools a chance to focus on their eco activities and feel part of the district’s efforts to tread more lightly on the planet. In many schools, pupil eco-groups took the lead, encouraging the wider school population to make changes and learn new things.  

In addition to the schools, a number of local Scouting, Girlguiding and Woodcraft Folk groups ran events.  

The sheer breadth of themes covered was really encouraging and shows just how much our young people care about the future of their planet.

Sustainable school lunches 

Local author, Becky Alexander, spoke at Beaumont, St Peters School, Samuel Ryder Academy, and Camp Primary School about her book, ‘The Green Lunch Box’. She helped pupils to think about reducing plastic and single use products in packed lunches.  Read the piece in the Herts Ad about Becky’s visit Camp School.

Celebrating nature 

Aboyne Lodge School ran a “Goes Outdoors week”, and Crabtree Junior School in Harpenden ran a “Nature at our Door” photography competition. At Abbey Primary School, children enjoyed planting on their Discovery Trail.

Isobel, Chair of our Sustainable Schools Group, ran a workshop on ‘Amazing Trees’, which delighted 20 pupils at Wood End School in Harpenden.

Local community group, Wilder St Albans ran a special, very well attended, Wilder Schools Networking event at Roundwood Primary for teachers from the district.

Woodland food chain activity at Wood End.
(Reproduced with permission from Sarah Maclaran, Wood End School)

Cutting Energy

St John Fisher involved the whole school in their new ‘Turn it Off’ campaign. Inside their school, they particularly highlighted energy saving tips when using white boards and lights. Pupils then put a large banner up on the street outside their school to remind drivers to turn off idling engines to cut pollution and carbon emissions.

“The breadth of themes covered was really encouraging.”


At Aldwickbury Pre-Prep, pupils rolled up their sleeves to work on their new Eco Garden. In Reception, the boys planted sunflower seeds. Year 1 have built a fantastic bug hotel to house the Aldwickbury insect population. Year 2 have planted herbs and some vegetables in welly boots. 

Pupils at Aldwickbury School in their new Eco Garden.

Zero Waste

Zero Waste was a popular topic for schools to embrace during SustFest22. STAGS ran a Waste Week while Beaumont students took part in the Big Plastic Count, which is run by Greenpeace.  

Fleetville Junior School held a Swish – swapping books, clothes and toys. Responses from the children included “I really enjoyed it because I know I am doing something positive for the planet and giving some of these things a new life.”

Outdoor Learning

This year SustFest22 coincided with Outdoor Classroom Day so a number of local schools took the opportunity to embrace learning outdoors while being closer to nature. Maple School, for example, told us that their whole school took part. 

“Pupils and staff really enjoyed the day and we’re hoping to make it a regular termly event on the school calendar”.

Pupils at Maple School enjoy Outdoor Learning.


The Sustainable Schools teams designed three special SustFest22 assemblies, aimed at different age groups. It was great to have so many schools download and use those assemblies in their school or design and run their own sustainable assemblies. Click here to visit our SustFest22 assemblies page.

There is No Planet B

One of the schools for younger students that embraced the week beyond all imagination was Fleetville Infant and Nursery Schools.

They said:

“As a school our topic was “There is no planet B”. We delved into our previous learning of everyday materials and how we can reduce, reuse, and recycle to make our planet a better and healthier place. This knowledge combined with our learning of plants encouraged us to think more widely about the foods we eat and what foods we can grow ourselves. 

We read the true story Hunters Icy Adventure by the children’s author Ellie Jackson of Wild Tribe Heroes. The story is centred around a Polar Bear who gets stuck on a cliff because of the ice floes melting and not being strong enough to support him.

This sparked a discussion around climate change and what we can do to make a difference. We discovered that a small impact could make a big change. We turned our classroom lights off and admired the space with the natural sunlight. Children in Years 1& 2 made posters and flyers to raise awareness around sustainability and the impact it has on our planet.”


“We discovered that a small impact could make a big change.”

Student Conference

Finally, we can’t finish this blog without acknowledging the fabulous Student Climate and Environmental Sustainability Conference. This was held for schools in the Scholars Education Trust on 10th June at Rothamsted. Local schools in the trust include Sir John Lawes, Samuel Ryder and Harpenden Academy. 150 KS2 & KS3 pupils took part in a wide range of workshops including one run by our own Isobel, from the Sustainable Schools Group.

All three schools had enthusiastically been involved in Sustainable Schools week a few weeks before and their dedication to taking action on climate change is impressive!

What now?

Are you a member of school staff, a governor or on a PTA? To know more about the work of the Sustainable Schools Group in St Albans District including Sustainable Schools Week, please sign up to our newsletter using the form here. We send out termly information both about teaching materials and making your school more eco-friendly. We also run termly networking zoom sessions to share ideas. Past sessions have included discussions of rewilding school grounds and sustainable travel plans.

Click through to the Sustainable Schools Group webpage here.

What is ‘Passive’ about a Passive House?

Building and living in a Passive House -Why did we build a Passive House?

Approaching retirement, we lived in a lovely village far from the support services we might need as we age.  So, I searched, and found, a house for sale in an appropriate location and asked my husband to view it.  He went to the wrong house!  But he arrived home excited about demolishing it to build one to our own design.  Serendipity?

This blog about building and living in a Passive House, is written by Linda Shall, a volunteer with Sustainable St Albans. Linda lives in Harpenden with her husband and cats! Linda is also giving an online talk about her experience of the Passive House on 23 June – requires booking.

I recently graduated with a BSc in Environmental Science and learned that running a Passive House emits much less carbon dioxide than conventional ones.  We investigated this environmental sustainability claim…demolished the ‘wrong’ house…and built one of the earliest Passive Houses in Harpenden.  We moved in a whisper before Lockdown One! So, what is passive about a Passive House?

What is ‘passive’ about a Passive House?

A Passive House is one that becomes and remains warm enough for human comfort all year round, without using an ‘active’ space heating system that is likely powered by fossil fuel.  We have NO boiler, NO radiators. 

In essence, a Passive House captures the energy in sunLIGHT (not heat) entering through its windows, converts it to heat for circulation around the building; along with heat emitted by human and animal bodies, domestic appliances, computer equipment, hot water, cooked food etc…

What are the essential basics of a Passive House?

Passivhaus certified

They are –

  • insulate, insulate, insulate!
  • draught-free construction
  • high-performance windows and doors
  • mechanical ventilation and heat recovery

There are no prescribed building products to achieve Passive House standards.  Consequently, all Passive Houses do not look the same and are not built using the same materials. 

What matters is that the detailed performance requirements in the Passive House Planning Package are fulfilled to achieve the mandatory comfort, health and energy standards for certification by the Passivhaus Institute in Germany.  A straw house could be a certified Passive House if it meets the standards!

ONLINE TALK Building and living in a Passivehaus – One Harpenden resident’s real life experience


In this one-hour online meeting, you will hear from Harpenden resident Linda about her experience of building a new house to Passivehaus standards. Time for Q&A at the end.

Insulate, insulate, insulate!

For buidling and living in a Passive House, insulating the outside walls, roof space and beneath the ground floor is essential basic #1 for a reason.  Often, Passive House outside walls are 450-500mm thick compared to new conventional cavity wall thicknesses of 250-300mm.  Ours comprise several empty and filled cavities, waterproof membrane and myriad insulating materials, to prevent inside heat and outside cold from moving through the walls. 

Our house sits atop an underground c300mm thick polystyrene raft to prevent heat leaching into the ground.  ‘Whoa!  Plastic?’ But I contend this is where plastic is the best material, and lasting around 200 years is hardly ‘single-use’… 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the:

  • absence of warm/cold air leaking outside/inside the house
  • reduction in outside traffic noise penetration through thicker walls?

Draught-free construction for a Passive House

We applaud the heroic properties of ‘line of airtightness’ tape used throughout the house.  It hermetically seals joints between any two materials.  It is so much more than duct tape that dries out, cracks and bubbles over time.           

Other draught prevention solutions include no metal cold ‘bridges’ through outside walls eg nails, screws, brackets, ties, mesh etc.  Borrow Sustainable St Albans’ Thermal Imaging Camera to find them! 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the …

  • permanent absence of draughts
  • constantly warm temperature everywhere?

Passive House high-performance windows and doors

Passive House High performance windows

We are enthralled by the properties of Passive House windows and doors.  Although not a prescribed product, they help achieve Passive House standards more easily.   

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the …

  • high G-value triple-glazing that captures and keeps more solar energy than standard window glass
  • fine-tuneable hinge/locking systems to pull windows and frames closer together?

BUT… We do acknowledge the challenges presented by keyholes and cat-flaps!

Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery – MVHR

Passive House Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery

In a conventionally-built house, internal air turns over between 6-15 times PER HOUR which means that it needs to be warmed 6-15 times PER HOUR for comfortable living.  Because of our superior insulation plus draught-free construction plus high-performance windows and doors our internal air naturally turns over only ONCE EVERY 3 HOURS. 

Consequently, we mechanically ventilate our house to keep the air fresh, dry and warm.  MVHR technology transfers 95% of the heat in stale, damp air extracted from bathrooms and kitchens and transfers it to fresh, filtered incoming air for circulation around the house by a low 35w/hr fan (saving ten times the amount of energy it uses). 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions of constantly fresh air that is warmed passively by sunlight and heat emitted during the normal running of the fridge, freezer, TV, hairdryer, computer, shower, humans and pets etc. 

So – does building and living in a Passive House live up to billing?

Ours does!  Building and living in a Passive House has set new sustainable standards for us. We have no draughty room corners, windows or doors; we set our preferred temperature per room – bedrooms cooler than living rooms; incoming air is filtered against air-borne pollutants; we suffer much less noise penetration from road and air traffic.

We prevent overheating in summer by shading windows using an array of external blinds, louvres, an awning and hit-and-miss cladding over smaller windows.

Of course in winter, heat is not created from sunlight inside the house when window blinds are closed, nor is it emitted from most domestic equipment when we are away from the building.  Consequently, when returning after a few days’ absence it takes the air a few hours to reach our preferred temperature.  It would take less time if our household comprised more people, as we resumed operating heat-emitting equipment around the house.  Because we could, during the build we installed a small air-pump for occasional use, which we have used a few times on these occasions.  We also installed under-floor heating for emergency use in the lounge, which we have NEVER used!   

Finally…the building cost of a Passive House

Yes, the capital cost per m2 is higher than for a conventional house.  Recent estimates state c7% depending…. this concentrated our minds on how many rooms we actually need.  We had 14 rooms, now we have 10; overall square meterage is down 18%.  We compensated for the extra capital cost by building a smaller house more suited to our lifestyle needs.

But we have slashed our carbon dioxide emissions by an extent we didn’t think possible. 

A Great Boost for Cycling in St Albans!

Imagine a boost for cycling in St Albans with a community-led, state-of-the-art Community and Cycle Hub with Cycling Activity Park. Club sessions for experienced cyclists. Bike workshops. Reconditioned bikes. A safe place to learn to ride: training for youngsters and adults, women-only sessions, fun cycle activities. Encouragement for less-confident riders and people with disabilities… to get on their bike!

It will inspire new cyclists. Children see cycling as fun. Experienced cyclists improve skills and take part in club/competition activities. Cycling increases in the district. It helps to reduce car journeys, reduce carbon emissions and improve the quality of air.

This week’s blog is written by Gail Jackson, from the Cottonmill and Sopwell Hub campaign group, and former trustee of Sustainable St Albans. If you like what you see – Gail asks please consider donating to the Cottonmill Centre Crowdfunder – or take part in the ‘Dads Run for Fun’ on 2nd Jan to raise funds.

Imagine an eco-friendly community building with solar panels, air source heat pump, green roof, and no gas. Add a small fruit orchard with community kitchen to support food sharing and food growing initiatives. Finally a community cafe!

Well, right now, this fabulous new centre is being built – in the heart of Cottonmill in Sopwell ward, one of the most deprived areas in the district.

Inclusive Community Centre

There will be low-cost halls to hire. There is a ‘Quiet Room’ for peace and reflection. A Changing Places toilet makes the centre accessible for people with disabilities. Wudu washing facilities so local Muslims feel confident to use the space.

This centre is the result of 3 years + campaigning by local groups.

Cottonmill and Sopwell Hub campaign, Verulam Cycling Club, Sopwell Community Trust and St Albans scouts worked with the council design team to create a centre to meet residents’ needs.

“A great initiative and a great boost to cycling in St Albans !”


Now you can help to build the centre

Community Crowdfunding open until 6th Jan

St Albans City and District Council secured major funding for the centre. The plan is to complete the new building at the former Marlborough Pavilion site, off Old Oak, Cottonmill Lane AL1, in spring 2022.

Building costs recently increased. So, the local community are helping raise a total of £79k funds. See the Crowdfunder here.


For just £50 donation you can #Buyabrick and get your name engraved on it .

“I’m looking forward to my two sons seeing their names on the brick

for years to come”


Rewards for Donating

Examples include:

  • 3 Cycle Coaching sessions for young people
  • Tea for two people with Daisy Cooper MP in St Albans
  • Veggie BBQ party for 6 guests with Christo from Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
  • One month’s trial membership at JJ Fitness Gym

Donate NOW and help to build the centre

Or make a Larger Donation:Name A Room‘ and Honours Board

Sustainable Transport – Increasing cycling

Increasing the number of cyclists is important to SADC because Active Travel is a priority. The Council’s declared Climate Emergency aims to reduce petrol/diesel car use in favour of more sustainable modes of transport such as cycling. Increasing numbers of local cyclists could play an important role in developing cycling as a widespread means of local transport. 

Verulam Cycling Club

Bike Things To Do

  • Purpose Built Cycle Hub – bike servicing, repair, bike hire, accessories, reconditioned cycles, training sessions.  
  • Outdoor Facilities – a pump track, within viewing distance of the café. Cyclo-cross course, existing dirt track facilities.  Learn-to-ride, with progression to 3m wide cyclo-cross course (suitable for adapted bikes). Storage facilities and adapted bikes available for hire. 
  • Guided Rides – to build confidence and encourage people to cycle.
  • Disability – ‘learn 2 ride’ sessions for people with a disability. With the Hertfordshire Disability Sports Foundation.

Learn-2-Ride sessions for children

Small groups – fun, friendly and safe traffic free environment.


Sopwell has few community spaces so we expect the halls to be used for yoga, Pilates, drama, dance, and social events including celebrations and weddings. And finally the Sopwell Muslim community will be able to host community events locally.

The centre can host youth clubs – from guides and scouts to anti-social behaviour work; meetups for the elderly and isolated; health and well-being support; food growing projects; food banks can use the community kitchen.

This project started out with a chat between two residents in Sainsbury’s café . Now it is a dream come true for the groups who began to campaign.

We hope you will enjoy this wonderful new community-led centre. It will be a cornerstone for developing sustainable transport in the district. It will be a community hub to encourage and enable supportive local networks to thrive.

Help to build the centre see more here

See more resources on Walking and Cycling here

Top tips for an eco and fun Halloween in St Albans District

We love Halloween at Playing Out St Albans District. There is so much fun to be had in our immediate neighbourhoods and it’s great to feel part of the community. This year we’re inviting residents to get involved in local Halloween competitions and a plan for a district map of spooky spots. And with Halloween becoming bigger and better every year, we’re also encouraging everyone to keep sustainability at the heart of what they do.

In this special Halloween blog, Nicola Wyeth, project co-ordinator of Playing Out St Albans District (a Sustainable St Albans project), talks about their joint seasonal project with St Albans Rainbow Trail and how to keep the celebrations sustainable.

After last year’s pause on the traditional Halloween trick-or-treating, it is exciting for Halloween to feel a bit more normal this year. Halloween falls on the last Sunday of half term, so it will feel like a bit of a party before the return to school. Some streets across the district have even got permission to close their roads for organised Playing Out sessions before it gets dark – we can’t wait to see photos of the kids scooting and biking in their costumes!

This year we are delighted to have been approached by Preet Cox of St Albans Rainbow Trail to work on some fun Halloween stuff together. You can find out full details of our plans on the St Albans Rainbow Trail Facebook page.

In essence, the project consists of two parts: a trio of competitions and (hopefully) a district map of decorated houses and businesses.

A trio of Halloween competitions

We are inviting all residents across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages to take part in our Halloween Spooktacular event and enter one or more of our three competitions:

  • The Spooky Home/Window Display – enter a picture of your decorated window, home or business.
  • The Rainbow Pumpkin Hunt – can you spot one while out and about in St Albans District?
  • The Pumpkin Carving Competition – enter a picture of your carved pumpkin into the competition

Entrants are asked to donate to St Albans District Foodbank. The suggested donation is £2.00, whether you enter one or all of the competitions. A winner for each competition will be picked on 1st November and each lucky winner will receive a £20.00 voucher courtesy of Bradford and Howley Estate Agents.

Join the St Albans Rainbow Trail Facebook group to enter the competitions as well as to find the terms and conditions. Any questions can be sent by direct messaging the St Albans Rainbow Trail Facebook page.

“Enter one or more of our three competitions.”

Rainbow Army recruit creating a Rainbow Pumpkin for you to spot on the Rainbow Pumpkin Trail.
Photo: St Albans Rainbow Trail

Map of St Albans District spooky spots

With St Albans Rainbow Trail , we are encouraging everyone who decorates their house or business for Halloween to tell us so that we can try to create a map of all the places to see across the district. Whether it’s a silhouette window or a full front drive horror house, fill in our google form and let us know.

Assuming we get enough locations, we’ll publish the map each day from 29th to 31st October. You’ll be able to locate Halloween displays near you whilst you’re out and about. We hope that local residents will enjoy walking around their neighbourhoods to see all the Halloween decorations and window displays.

If you live in Redbourn, do check out the Redbourn Village Trails Facebook Group too!

Please do get involved and spread the word! Why not pop it on your street WhatsApp group?

“Whether it’s a silhouette window or a full front drive horror house […] let us know.”

Keeping Halloween climate-friendly

In some households, Halloween is already becoming the new Christmas. You can pretty much buy anything themed on Halloween – and every supermarket is offering an array of orange and black as you walk through the door. From disposable tableware to costumes to projectors, there is so much tempting Halloween stuff to buy.

Before you chuck those orange plastic trick-or-treat buckets in your trolley, please do stop and think. Can you join in with Halloween without buying new? Here are some ideas…

“…there is so much tempting Halloween stuff to buy.”

Think second-hand Halloween

So many polyester costumes are bought for one day, worn once and never worn again. So much plastic is involved in cheap Halloween decorations. But you don’t need to shell out £10 notes on new stuff.  Lots of local charity shops have displays of loads of Halloween stuff that is as good as new so wander down your high street and see what you can find. What do friends and neighbours have that you could borrow or swap?

Local social media

  • NextDoor, the geographically-based social media website and app, is a good resource to tap into
  • WhatsApp groups are great for this kind of thing – tell your local contacts what you’re looking for!

St Albans District selling Facebook groups

St Albans District free sites and webpages

Facebook groups for free stuff in St Albans District

“So many polyester costumes are bought for one day, worn once and never worn again.”

Think natural materials, think home-made: Decorations

Playing Out is, first and foremost about play. Free, unstructured play. The most unstructured way to decorate for Halloween is to let the kids go wild with natural materials and their imagination. 

Forage in nature

Pine cones, conkers, autumn leaves, twigs all make great decorative materials.

Home made decorations

No need to go out and buy them – make them from the stuff you already have! Don’t forget to try to avoid glitter if you can.

  • Get a bucket of chalk and decorate the drive with spooky pictures and words
  • Wool makes great spiders’ webs
  • Make a haunted house den from a big cardboard box
  • Cut out spiders and ghouls from black plastic bags and blue tack to walls and windows – those plastic postal bags that have black insides are ideal for this.
  • Fill jam jars with spooky stuff and dot around – what pocket money toys are lying around your house? Plastic spiders and other insects, pretend eye balls, fake thumbs from a magic set can be put in a jam jar filled with water. Add a few drops of different food colouring to each for a spooky display.
  • Decorate jam jars – and fill with LED tea lights to make lanterns
  • Egg carton bats
  • Bed sheet ghosts (stuff a pillow case in the middle and tie with string to make head then suspend)

Sustainable window displays

If you’re planning a window display, check out our Festive Streets blog from last December. The theme is different – but the principles of window displays can apply to Halloween as well as December celebrations.

Care with lights

Please minimise energy usage with your decorated house or window, particularly on lights. If you do use lights, please avoid flashing lights as these can adversely impact some people.  

Think natural materials, think home-made: Costumes

Making your own is so easy and it’s cheaper!

  • Ghost up with a sheet (best advice my mother-in-law ever gave me – “never throw away old sheets – they come in so handy for everything”).
  • Toilet paper mummy – wind round you!
  • Cat – black outfit, cardboard ears attached to hairband, homemade tail from old tights.
  • Bat – black outfit, wings from black material, cardboard bat ears attached to hairband
  • Don’t forget the joy of Facepaints – scary witch, spooky ghost – there are tons of ideas on line

Also what could you use that you already own that would make a good trick-or-treat sweet collector? 

Don’t waste that pumpkin

Keep your pumpkin decorations sustainable by not creating unnecessary food waste. A terrifying 14.5 million pumpkins are expected to be left uneaten this Halloween, in the UK alone!  Hubbub UK’s annual Pumpkin Rescue campaign is back, this year called “Eat Your Pumpkin”. For lots of ideas visit Hubbub.

Why not try this great pumpkin soup recipe from Grow Community Sopwell in St Albans. And don’t forget pumpkin seeds can be roasted too for a tasty snack!

Finally when the celebrations are over, make sure you compost that pumpkin!

Find out more about Playing Out

Playing Out is a nation-wide concept where residents choose to apply to the local authority to close their road to through traffic to allow the children to come out onto the street and cycle, scoot and play together in the road. It is a fabulous way to build communities, offering neighbours a chance to build support networks and children the opportunity to get fresh air and exercise, as well as learn to play in an unstructured manner with other children of all ages.

If this is something you would like to see on your street in the future, why not join our mailing list to be kept up-to-date with the latest news and check out our Playing Out St Albans District webpages.

Find out more about St Albans Rainbow Trail

This 2,500 strong community Facebook group was set up by Preet Cox during lockdown and has raised hundreds of pounds for charity while helping St Albans District residents to come together as a community and get creative.Why not click here to visit the St Albans Rainbow Trail Facebook page or click here to visit and join the St Albans Rainbow Trail Facebook Group.

Happy Halloween!

5 good reasons not to talk about climate (and why you should anyway)

This week marks the start of our #CountdownToCOP campaign, where we encourage people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps, and make the changes which really matter. We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26, focussing on one of the 16 steps each week.

To kick us off, Catherine Ross, our Sustainable St Albans trustee and author of our Climate Conversation pack, focuses on the Count Us In step “Talk to Friends”. She looks at all good the reasons not to talk about the climate.

1. It’s weird and uncomfortable. Who brings up climate change with their family, friends and colleagues?

It’s true, talking about anything serious with friends, family, and colleagues can be difficult.  Asking people to talk about climate change feels a bit like talking to them about weight loss or giving up smoking; you don’t want your mates to feel you are judging them, or being ‘holier than thou’. Plus, it means mentioning something frightening and sometimes overwhelming; the havoc climate change is wreaking on the world.

But, the thing is, talking about climate issues is critically important. 

The well-researched Count Us In framework lists “talking to friends” as one of the 16 highest impact steps you can take. When the world-renowned climate scientist and communicator Katherine Hayhoe gave her TED talk, she chose to call it “The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: Talk about it”. 

If you do one thing after reading this blog, watch her talk.  

The chances are, your friends, family and colleagues will be glad of a chance to talk. Our recent residents survey tells us 86% of people are worried or very worried about climate change. They may well be relieved that you have made the first move.  

2. I’m no climate expert. I don’t know enough to talk confidently about climate change. 

I understand this one too.  What if someone asks a tricky technical question about carbon dioxide levels, ice ages, or carbon capture, and you’re left feeling out-on-a-limb? 

If this is your worry, then here are three things to remember; 

First, no-one can argue with you about how you feel. If you say to someone, “I’m worried about climate change, and I’d really like to understand better what I can do about it.  Do you feel the same way?” then you’re not claiming any special expertise, but you are opening up a conversation.  You’re engaging as equals, who want to know more. 

Second, there are loads of materials out there to help you.  For example, Sustainable St Albans has a ready-made pack called Climate Conversations which takes you step-by-step through a conversation. Using Climate Conversation means you can have a climate conversation with your friends, family or colleagues without anyone needing to be the expert. 

Third, you don’t need to be a climate scientist to talk about the actions you are going to take in your own life. You’re an expert on what changes will work for you, so focus on that. The Count Us In framework gives you the information on what steps are most effective, and you can use this to talk to you friends and family about which steps would work for them.  (You can sign up for Count Us In as part of the St Albans Climate Action Network, #StAlbansCAN.)

3. I’m not convinced it will make a difference. 

Having face-to-face conversations with your friends and family might not directly reduce your carbon pollution but it’s one of the most important things you can do. Research shows that friends and loved ones are some of our most trusted sources of information. By talking about your experiences you’ll raise awareness of climate issues and you might help someone else feel confident enough to take their first step too.

There are other benefits too. Sharing your experiences with others might give you the support or determination to succeed with your own next steps.  You might find they have tips for you too, for example about local solar panel installers. 

Talking can also help you and those close to you deal with any eco-anxiety you have. By sharing your feelings and realising you aren’t alone, it can help you cope. 

Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

4. I don’t have a clue where to begin.  How do I start a conversation about climate change?

You will know the best way with those close to you, but here are possible openers:

  • “Do you know any good local bike routes? I’m trying to ride more because I’m worried about climate change and I’m looking for recommendations.“
  • “I had a great vegan takeaway last night.  I wasn’t sure whether I would like it, but actually it was delicious.  I’m trying to eat less meat because I’m worried about climate change.” 
  • “This jumper was a great bargain, do you like it?  I found it online in a secondhand store. I’m trying to buy fewer new clothes because I’m worried about climate change.”
  • “My daughter was really upset about climate change last night, and I felt a bit helpless because I didn’t know what to say to make her feel better.  Does that happen at yours as well?” 
  • “I’ve signed up for the local St Albans Count Us In page because I’m worried about climate change, and want to do something more. Have you heard about it? I’ll send you the link.” 

Choose a small practical thing to comment on, which is natural for you to say, and then link it to how you feel. Ask for their advice or input. Then see how they respond, and take it from there. 

It is often better to avoid talking about climate change in the abstract. Think about the things that matter most to the people close to you, and explore how taking action can help them protect the things they love and improve their lives day-to-day. That’s different for different people, but might mean starting with the state of the lake in Verulam Park, how air quality affects their child’s asthma, or how cycling will help with getting fit. 

Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

5. I do want to have a conversation about climate change, but I don’t know how.

This is where Sustainable St Albans can help you.  You can use our ready-made Climate Conversation pack to guide you through. 

You simply gather a group of friends or colleagues, either on-line or in person. We provide all the materials you need to hold your own Climate Conversation.

A Climate Conversation is a chance to take time to discuss the climate crisis, your thoughts for the future, and deciding what actions you could take. It takes about 2 hours, or a couple of lunch-hours at work.

You could use the Climate Conversation pack at a work team meeting, in your book group, faith group, mums’ group, or any other small group you are part of.  Why not send a WhatsApp today to a few people, and see if they are interested? 

Our website has all the information and FAQs.

If you want to know more how to talk about climate, we also really recommend the Climate Outreach’s Talking Climate guide.  They suggest useful mnemonic based on REAL TALK. 

I know it might not be easy, but it’s important and worthwhile, so please do try.  Good luck with all those conversations!

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We’re in – are you? make the changes that matter in the #Countdown To COP

We're in! - are you?  Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.
We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

#CountdownToCOP will show you how you can take steps in your life to make a big difference to our planet. Join us over the next 16 weeks as we encourage St Albans District to make the changes that matter and protect what you love.

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Visit the St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

In November this year, the UK will host COP26, the international conference where countries will agree the next steps on tackling climate change.  Sustainable St Albans is linking with environmental groups and volunteers across the district to encourage ordinary residents like YOU to take your own steps too. It’s called #CountdownToCOP.

In the build up to the COP26 conference, we are encouraging people across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages to take your own steps to reduce your carbon pollution using the Count Us In framework.  These 16 steps have been selected based on what is most effective at reducing your personal carbon pollution, their power to influence leaders and their ability to involve everyone. 

Wearing clothes that will last or speaking up at work are just two of the 16 most effective things you can do to reduce carbon pollution and encourage others to do the same. These are both Count Us In steps. From now till November, in the #CountdownToCOP, we will feature one of these steps each week. We will share resources to help you take each step, and inspiration from others who have.  Watch out for our blogs and social media posts with more information each week.

The 16 highest impact steps, to cut your carbon and inspire others to do the same.

“Wearing clothes that will last or speaking up at work are two of the 16 most effective things you can do to reduce carbon pollution.”

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

You can choose whether to appear on the St Albans District Count Us In page with your full name, your first name or anonymously.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

Which of the 16 highest impact steps will you commit to do?

Choose something you know is realistic, that you can do in the next few weeks:

  • Food
    • Cut food waste – Reduce the amount of food that is wasted or thrown away in your home.
    • Eat more plants – Reduce the amount of meat in your weekly diet.
    • Eat seasonal – Eat food produced at its natural time of the year.
  • Travel
    • Fly less – Reduce your plane travel to dramatically cut your carbon pollution.
    • Walk and cycle more – Travel by bike or foot wherever you can.
    • Drive Electric – Make your next car purchase an electric vehicle.
  • Home
    • Insulate Your Home – Install or enhance the loft insulation in your home.
    • Switch your energy – Move your home to a green energy supplier.
    • Get some solar – Install solar panels to generate energy for your home.
    • Dial it down – Turn down the heating in your home by a degree or more.
  • Lifestyle
    • Wear Clothes to last Buy fewer new clothes and wear them for longer.
    • Green your money – Choose financial institutions and funds that invest responsibly.
    • Repair and reuse – Repair your belongings rather than buying new.
  • Voice
    • Tell your politicians – Ask politicians to act or invest in infrastructure to support a step.
    • Speak up at work – Come together with colleagues to make change at a bigger scale.
    • Talk to friends – Start a conversation about Count Us In and encourage others to take a step.

“… all we need to do is pick a step, and give it a try.”

Sustainable St Albans will help you take your first step

For example, week one is all about “Talking to Friends” and you can find resources to help you here, including our free Climate Conversation pack.

The mission of Count Us In is to inspire one billion citizens to take a step.  Which step will you take? Explore the St Albans District Count Us In page now and take part in the #CountdownToCOP.

Decorate Your Window for Festive Streets

“Decorate a window”. For some people, it’s pure pleasure – an artistic joy they were born to produce. Yet, for others, it’s a hugely daunting task and they wouldn’t know where to start. If you fall into the latter category, read on!

This blog is from Nicola, project co-ordinator of the new #FestiveStreets project from Sustainable St Albans’ Playing Out team.

#FestiveStreets, the new community project we have launched across St Albans District, has taken off in a big way! We have been overwhelmed by the amount of interest and, as of writing, we have had over 250 people sign up from more than 180 streets across the district.

We hope this blog will give some ideas and inspiration to the hundreds of people across the district who have pledged to decorate their windows as part of Festive Streets.

Window display of Festive Streets Logo (Photo: Festive Streets)

The basics

The first task is to make some basic decisions:

  • Day or night or both – do you want your display to look best in the day or at night?
  • Lighting – lit from behind or lit by daylight?
  • Choose your window – downstairs is often more visible to the street; upstairs may offer more privacy (as you usually can’t see right into the room from the street) – or maybe. you will use more than one window!


  • measure your window
  • begin your design….
Rope the family in to help with your window decorations (Photo: Festive Streets)


This is actually quite a key decision early on in your design. If you are doing your design to be seen in the dark, you are particularly vulnerable to people being able to see into the room. Ideally, you want them to see only the display, not you and your family watching television! In addition, the design will be more effective if the view is not distracted by the room beyond.

There are a number of ways you can ensure privacy:

  • Fill the whole window with your design
  • Pull down a blind or pull curtains across the unused part of the window (or hang a sheet)
  • Go for an upstairs window if the room’s inside can’t be seen from below.
  • Use some kind of semi-opaque material to obscure the glass you have left plain: tracing paper, white tissue paper, greaseproof paper, a large paper table cloth, even opened out cereal box inner bags work well.
  • Put a light source for the display between the curtains and the glass – eg some very low wattage LED fairy lights round the edge of the window frame (and put them on a timer)

Types of design

The traditional shadows and light window

This is by far the most popular style for winter windows because they look fabulous at night. You can do it in one of two ways:

  • the silhouette – make shapes with dark materials.
  • the cut out – fill the window with black and cut holes to make your shapes

Your dark material can be anything that is opaque – black paper is popular, but try the leftover brown paper used in delivery parcels or the black inside of a plastic delivery bag.

You then light the room from behind and those on the street see the magical effect.

Shadows and light: silhouette shapes (Photo: Festive Streets)
Shadows and light: cut-outs(Photo: Festive Streets)

The coloured window

Fill your cut-outs or back your silhouettes with colour

  • coloured tissue paper
  • coloured cellophane sweet wrappers (eg Quality Street)
  • coloured thin carrier bags
  • change the bulb colour in the room or use coloured low wattage LED fairy lights on a timer

In fact, you don’t need black at all – you could do the whole window display in colour!

Colourful window (Photo: Festive Streets)
Colourful window (Photo: Festive Streets)

The daytime cut-outs window

If you’re going for a display that looks great in day time then white paper looks fab. Think of those snowflakes we all used to make as kids – a window full of those can look spectacular.

The museum display window

A simple window display can be done in the form of displaying things. Stacks of small boxes or shoe boxes make fantastic mini shelves and you can then fill them with whatever is appropriate for your theme.

Window displays in boxes (Photo: Festive Streets)

Drawings in windows

You can probably paint or draw on windows with some special equipment but I’m no artist plus I wouldn’t know how to get it off again! What you might have to hand are permanent pens like Sharpies. These work really well on both used cellophane (try wrappings from florist flowers) and also opened out flattened cereal bags, which are even more preferable as they have add that element of privacy to the window. Sit down at the table, spread out your film and let your artistic flair in!

Window drawings on cereal bags in Sharpies (Photo: Festive Streets)
Window drawings on cereal bags in Sharpies (Photo: Festive Streets)

Garlands and strings in windows

Windows are the perfect format for stringing things up. Strings can run across the windows in horizontal lines or hang vertically down from the top. The ideas for what you can hang from your strings are endless – how about

  • traditional festive decorations 
  • homemade paper stars
  • homemade gingerbread men
  • pine cones
  • twig/stick art
  • salt dough shapes
  • toilet roll santas and snowmen

I’ve even seen a fantastic photo of a window display done with Hawaiian Shirts strung up!

Visit our Pinterest board for more inspiring pictures

Our Pinterest board is full of ideas – ok, some of them might be a little bit more beautiful than your average mortal can create, but they are sure to give you a starting point for ideas.

The Golden Rules

So now you’ve got some ideas, it’s time to go for it. The remaining thing I would say is simply to follow these golden rules:

  • Remember: it’s not a competition!
  • Keep it sustainable – don’t buy new unless you have to – use what you have or ask a neighbour
  • Keep your design as simple as you can
  • Rope in household members to help you 
  • Have fun!
  • Reflect on the joy you have brought to your neighbours and passers-by every time you see it.

Find out more

For more information about Festive Streets, follow the link from our Playing Out Project page. You can get a free Festive Streets electronic information pack to get you started which includes template notes to your neighbours, colouring posters and lots of inspiration.

How to go #plasticfree Part 1: Plastic-Free Kitchen

The Big Picture: why do we need to go Plastic Free?

Plastic-Free July is a great time to start or continue down your journey to cut out single-use plastic. I’m sure many of you are keen to do this, but when faced with supermarket aisles full of plastic, it is very hard not to just automatically pick up what is being pushed at you.

Did you know that plastic is made from crude oil and natural gas, and the oil and gas industry is desperate to keep making money so is pushing plastic as the new way to keep their coffers full, now that there are so many renewable forms of energy?

For PlasticFreeJuly we have a series of 5 blogs you can read throughout July – written by Marianne Jordan  – who is the founder of local plastic-free support group Ethical Fridays @ethical_fridays  Marianne is the winner of St Albans Mayor’s Pride Award “Environmentalist of the Year 2020

According to the documentary film “The Story of Plastic,” a massive pipeline has been constructed across America to pipe all that newly fracked gas to the East Coast, where it is shipped to the INEOS plastic plant at Grangemouth, Scotland.

INEOS (Yes! those people who sponsor British Cycling) is the company who turn fracked gas into tiny plastic pellets called nurdles which are then used to make all types of plastic items. Go to any beach in the world and you will find nurdles in the sand.

According to the Nurdlehunt charity, as many as 35 tankers full of these tiny lightweight floating plastics enter the sea every year from the UK alone, that is 53 billion pellets with no way of removing them. Once in the ocean, more harmful chemicals bond to them and they are eaten by all types of marine life and have been found in the stomachs of countless fish, birds and mammals. See more about nurdles here.

We’ve got your back! – how to take action, bit by bit..

By now you are anxious to know what you can do to stop this. Each week during Plastic Free July, we will tackle a different part of the problem, including food packaging, your bathroom, your desk/gifts, and which companies are the big plastic-producing (and therefore plastic polluting) companies. This week, we will start with some easy swaps in…

The kitchen

I’m sure the cupboard under your sink is full of plastic bottles, plastic sponges, plastic scrubbers, plastic brushes and plastic microfiber wipes.

All of these can be swapped for plastic-free versions.

Plastic free washing up?

Washing Up Liquid: No need to buy a single-use bottle of washing up liquid ever again! Instead save the empty bottle to be refilled at both The Refill Pantry (London Road) and Eat Wholefoods warehouse (Hatfield Road), both St Albans.

If you can’t get to these, try one of the refill delivery services:

Glass bottles: if you prefer to eliminate all plastic from your house, invest in a glass bottle with dispenser (Refill Pantry or online). Tincture sells gentle chemical-free washing up liquid refills in amber glass bottles and Fill has various cleaning products in clear glass.

Washing up bars: go totally bottle-free with a solid washing up bar see online at:

Plastic sponges break down into tiny microplastics as you use them, which then get into the water system

Sponges and brushes

There is now a big range of washing up sponges, brushes and scrubbers made from natural biodegradable materials. Plastic sponges break down into tiny microplastics as you use them, which then get into the water system, so swapping to a sponge made of plant cellulose will help stop this problem. Some are available from The Refill Pantry, and also look online.  When lockdown allows, you can also buy these and much more at the St Albans market from the Phase Out Plastic stall; In #lockdown at the time of writing, if you message them through Facebook they will deliver.

Dishwasher tabs

Plastic-free dishwasher tablets are available from Wilko’s (Doesn’t Cost the Earth range), Aldi (Eco-Action), Refill Pantry (Ecoleaf) or Ocado (Attitude) or how about subscribing to one of the refill delivery services such as Splosh, Fill or Smol?

Rinse aid: White vinegar works well as a rinse aid, but the Refill Pantry sells actual rinse aid. Online, Fill rinse aid comes in a glass bottle.

Dishwasher Salt: Find dishwasher salt in cardboard, e.g. Sainsbury’s and Ocado’s own brand 1kg boxes. Or visit Letchworth’s refill shop: Bamboo Turtle, which sells loose dishwasher salt and tablets, as well as citric acid, laundry powder and various cleaners.

Plastic-free cleaning

A lot of your cleaning can be done with just white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Bicarb is good for cleaning sinks and baths and vinegar is good for glass, backsplashes, kitchen surfaces (not granite) and tiles. Look online for more. Both of these are available as refills at the Refill Pantry, along with multi-surface cleaner and toilet cleaner. Dri-Pak boxes of Bicarbonate of Soda, Borax Substitute and Citric Acid can be found in Wilko’s and Robert Dyas. However, if you can’t give up your scented spray cleaner just yet, there are lots of refills available.

Soaking some orange peel in white vinegar for 2 weeks gives it a citrus scent and adds to the cleaning power. Fill half a spray bottle with vinegar then top up with water for an all-purpose cleaning spray.

Dissolvable Sachets

Iron & Velvet  produce dissolvable sachets of surface cleaner, anti-bacterial surface cleaner, oven cleaner, glass & mirror cleaner, floor cleaner (and some bathroom products). Just pop one into an empty spray bottle filled with water, give it a shake and off you go! Some of these can be found at The Refill Pantry.

Ocean Saver also produce dissolvable sachets of multi-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, kitchen cleaner, anti-bacterial cleaner, floor cleaner and wooden floor cleaner (and bathroom cleaner) and can be found in the M&S at London Colney.

Splosh does a range of concentrated cleaning products delivered in returnable pouches and Fill uses glass jars or bulk bags in boxes, which can be returned to Fill for refilling.

Why not make some washable kitchen towels by cutting up some old vests or a towel?

Plastic-free laundry

Laundry liquid and fabric conditioner can be refilled at Eat Wholefoods warehouse and The Refill Pantry, so save your bottles to be refilled. For online see Splosh which do various laundry liquids, fabric conditioner and stain remover in different scents. If you prefer liquid capsules, Smol will post you laundry capsules in a plastic-free cardboard box with a child-lock mechanism.

Laundry powder is relatively easy to find, but brands without harsh chemicals are Ecover, which comes without a plastic scoop and is in most supermarkets; Bio-D washing powder in a brown paper sack available through Ocado and online or Mangle & Wringer pure laundry powder in a paper sack (online).

Laundry Strips

But for a really low carbon option, try some Laundry Detergent Sheets by Simply Living Eco (Refill Pantry) or Tru Earth Laundry Strips. These are very lightweight sheets of detergent which have a very low transport cost and very little packaging. For completely chemical-free alternatives, try Ecoegg (Robert Dyas etc) or natural Soapnuts (Refill Pantry).

Stain Removers

Natural bleach powders are made by Mangle & Wringer who also give natural stain removal tips. Bio-D and Peace with the Wild  stain removal bars are also available online.

I hope you have found some new ideas you want to try.  See all about plastic free bathrooms next week!

Global Climate Strike St Albans

Friday 20 September 2019 saw hundreds of  school children and supporting adults on strike for the Climate. Meeting at the clocktower in St Albans the group, with colourful and emphatic banners, marched to the town hall, and then back through the city centre.

The UK protests are co-ordinated by the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) who are a group of mostly under 18s taking to the streets to protest the government’s lack of action on the Climate Crisis. They are mobilising unprecedented numbers of students to create a strong movement and send a message that they are tired of being ignored.

This is a strong start to this Autumn’s climate actions – taking place throughout the UK. Keep an eye out for Extinction Rebellion’s Autumn Rebellion, starting on October 7th.

outside council

we should all be worriedyellowno planet b

boy give me a futureHelen and boyclocktowercrowd by council

Climate Emergency declaration 55 – 0 at St Albans District Council

Climate Emergency report back Wed 9th Oct- see you there!

St Albans District Council is holding a full council meeting at 7pm Wed 9th October 2019  at the council offices, St Albans – they will be reporting back on the Climate Emergency work. Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend this meeting. You may want to attend so that the council sees that you are concerned and interested in the progress of their work on this.

In July 2019 St Albans District Council  declared a Climate Emergency with all party agreement voting 55 votes to 0 in favour.

Read the minutes and council motion agreed here

Sustainable St Albans and St Albans Friends of the Earth jointly organised the 1700 strong petition, which was distributed during the 2019 Sustainability Festival, also organised by the two groups.

Members of Sustainable St Albans, and St Albans Friends of the Earth, joined environmental groups and supporters outside the council offices before the council debate. Groups included Extinction Rebellion St Albans, St Albans Labour Party, and St Albans Green Party.

Catherine Ross, chair of the 2019 Sustainabilty Festival and trustee of Sustainable St Albans presented the petition along with Mimi Spiliopoulou,  a 17 year old member of Extinction Rebellion St Albans.

Catherine Ross said:

“It is a brilliant result – and so positive that there was cross-party agreement in favour of declaring the Climate Emergency in our district. I just want to thank all of the residents, councillors and officers who helped to make this happen – and to say that Sustainable St Albans will help in any way we can as the council goes forward in developing an action plan. Now the work begins.”

Catherine and Mimi presenting the petition at the council

 120 1st tier councils across the UK have declared a Climate Emergency. 70 of these, like St Albans District Council, have set a target date of 2030 to go carbon neutral. For information on other councils see

Single Use Plastic Ban

On the same evening the council also agreed a motion put forward by Cllr Mary Maynard to ban the use of single use plastic in Council offices and work towards banning its use in facilities licensed by the Council and at events on Council property or supported by the council. This follows the setting up of a new Plastic Free Harpenden group, which joins Plastic Free St Albans in calling for a reduction in the use of single use plastic across the district.

Gail Jackson, trustee of Sustainable St Albans which partners Plastic Free St Albans said

“This was a remarkable, and historic night for the district with two major motions supporting environmental sustainability. Over 5,000 people took part in the events during the fourth Sustainabilty Festival and these concerned residents must now feel that their voices have been heard.”

 Christelle Garcia from Plastic Free St Albans said

“It’s fantastic that the council is supporting the reduction of single use plastics in such a practical way that should see quite an impact in the district. Local businesses have already been very pro-active on this issue and this motion will provide a huge boost to the movement to remove these unnecessary plastics from our everyday lives.”

Sustainable St Albans will be following the council’s progress closely and we will keep you all up to date!

Facebook: @sustainablestalbans

Twitter: @sustainablesta

What can you do, to make a difference?

The Sustainability Festival has ended, after a fabulous three weeks.  As things wrap up for this year, Catherine Ross, the current chair of the festival organising group, reflects on one of the most common questions asked by people coming to events:  “But what can I do, that really makes a difference?

So, you’re worried about climate change, you’re aware of the issues, and you want to act.  That’s a great place to start … lots of people aren’t even interested.

Here are five things you can do that really help:

(1) Make changes in your own life, using our Climate Action card

(2) Be a conscious consumer: every time you spend or save a pound, make it part of the solution.

(3) Influence the people around you.

(4) Join local groups and achieve more as a community.

(5) Normalise it, by talking about it.

Here’s a little more information on each one.

(1) Make changes in your own life, using our Climate Action plan.

For SustFest, we created an action plan with 25 things you can do.  See here to find it.

Each area has a lot of impact on your carbon footprint; home energy, food, getting about, the stuff you buy, and spreading the word. They start out easy, and get harder.

Don’t try and do everything at once.  You’re trying to build up new habits, and you’re only human. This month, choose one thing to focus on.  Give it a proper go.  Once you’re used to it, choose another one.  Work your way through the plan. Put it up on the fridge to remind yourself!

(2) Be a conscious consumer (and investor)

People often forget that they have a lot of influence by the way they use their money.  Every single purchase you make sends a message about what you care about.  Companies listen to their customers.

So, when you are about to buy something, ask yourself;

  • do I really need it?
  • could I buy it second hand?
  • if I do need it, and need a new one, then what is an ethical / environmental choice?
  • on this occasion, can I afford to make that choice?

Of course, this varies massively, depending on what you’re buying … whether you’re buying a banana or a car!  But here are some things to think about. Will it last?  Can it be easily repaired? Can it be recycled at the end of life?

record player fixed
St Lukes Repair Fair

Can you buy one that was locally made? It helps that some products come with ratings for energy efficiency. I often look at Ethical Consumer Magazine for reviews. Also, you can ask on Facebook on a page like ours, or sustainable(ish) with jen gale’, and people will often answer.

For fruit and veg, there are some good local options, like Carpenters Nursery and Box Local.  For dried food and household goods, there is the Refill Pantry and Eat Whole Foods.Carpenters veg


As well as your purchases, think about your pension and investments.  have you asked your pension provider if they offer a fossil-fuel free pension? They probably don’t yet, but the more people that ask, the more likely it is to happen. They might well have an ethical option to consider.  Do you want to move any investments you have away from fossil fuel companies? If you are a high net worth investor, you might even consider investing in green start-ups.

green heart.png

(3) Influence the people around you.

You’re reading this blog, so you care, and probably making changes already. Stop and think about who in your life you might be able to influence, and how.  This stuff is difficult, but not impossible.

  • Start small. Could you speak to the people you live with about turning down the thermostat? 
  • Could you speak to extended family about not giving “stuff” as presents and instead buying experiences or trips?
  • If your work involves plane trips could you speak to your boss about flying less?
  • Could you speak to the kids’ headmaster about helping fundraise for solar panels?
  • Could you speak to your vicar or imam about putting Eco Churches or Eco Mosques on the agenda of the management committee?
  • Could you write to your councillor or MP and tell them you care about climate and ask them what they are personally doing?

Stop for a minute and write down a list of the people you could speak to, and about what. Word of mouth is amazing.



(4) Join local groups and achieve more as a community.

Our district has lots of fabulous groups of committed people, working to improve the environment, and build stronger communities, in different ways.  They are fuelled by volunteer time and effort of all sorts.

It can be anything from the odd hour here or there, with no ongoing commitment, like going on a litter pick, to regular commitments as a trustee, a fundraiser, a comms person, or a project manager.

ver valley riverfly

There are so many groups working across the district … just look at the SustFest programme for inspiration.

If you can’t see a group that hits the spot, then start one.  Every project Sustainable St Albans has ever run started (Thermal Imaging Camera; Playing Out; Open Food Gardens; Electric Bike Day) with a passionate volunteer.

(5) Normalise it, by talking about it. 

This is the simplest and the hardest action all at once. It needs to become normal for people to talk about the climate emergency e and the terrible effects it will have, if we don’t make radical change quickly.

You can really help by simply talking about it to people.

These don’t need to be big, earnest conversations, unless the other person welcomes this.  A short comment, and a very brief explanation is enough.  Try these on for size.



  • What did you do at the weekend? “I went for a bike ride. I stopped riding my bike for years, but I’m back on it now and really enjoying it. I love feeling I’m getting some exercise and not contributing to all the pollution.
  • What are you getting for lunch? “I think today I’ll try something vegan. I read at the weekend it makes a real difference, so I’ll give it a go today.”
  • Where are you going for holiday this summer? “We’re thinking of getting the Eurostar to Amsterdam and then hiring bikes. We thought we’d try and get through the year without flying.

Don’t be afraid that you don’t know all the answers. You can say how you feel without needing to be the expert.

  • Have you watched the David Attenborough documentary about climate change yet? It really scared me, but it’s definitely worth seeing.”  
  • “What do you think about the kids striking? I kind of admire them, raising their voices about something so important for their future.”

By making small steps, spending wisely, influencing others, joining forces, and normalising climate conversations, we can each can have a real impact.

So what’s stopping you? The end of SustFest19 could be just the beginning…

Ayletts growing sustainability

Ayletts Nursery invites you to clear out your unwanted plastic garden pots and take them to Ayletts for recycling. You know you want to forage in the shed and declutter!

But did you know how much they do to reduce their carbon footprint on site? Louise Canfield from Ayletts, a Silver Sponsor of the 2019 Sustainability Festival, said:

“We are passionate about plants and growing towards a sustainable future”


They have a fabulous display in the front shop – all about the work they are doing to ensure they recycle their packaging and reducing their carbon footprint. They have also started to use fully recyclable pots for their own planst.Ayletts recycling

They grow a large selection of their own plants on site, including Dahlia’s, Cyclamen, Geraniums, Fuchsias, Poinsettias, Primroses and Polyanthus – and are conscious of the need to source British grown plants and encourage customers to #growtheirown.

100 per cent recyclable

They have a compute controlled greenhouse environment to keep energy consumption at its more efficient and they monitor water use daily. Rainwater is collected for use in their Houseplant department.

To reduce electricity they have worked with Ideal lights and the Carbon Trust, and have replaced 99% of the lighting in the Garden Centre with LED equivalents reducing their carbon footprint by 30 metric tonnes.

In 2018 they recycled

  • 33 Wheelie Bins (2.16 tonnes) of glass
  • 26 Bales (4 tonnes) of plastic

It’s great to see local businesses taking environmental sustainability to heart and joining in with #SustFest19




What makes our city sustainable?

Place is such an important factor in identity. When you meet someone, your first question is most likely ‘Where are you from?’ The pride that may (or may not) come from the answer given is what I work to foster in St Albans. As #SustFest19 will tell you, sustainability is not just about reduce/reuse/recycle. While important, elements around community cohesion, mental wellbeing and business viability all contribute to a city’s sustainability.

Gin & Jazz 2018 Stephanie Belton (3)
Credit: Stephanie Belton 2018

Today’s blog is written by Helen Burridge, Business Manager of St Albans Bid – which is sponsoring the #SustFest19 St Albans Market Takeover on Sunday 19th May.

St Albans businesses care deeply about the viability of this city. The economic confidence of the community, the visitors, the employees and the residents will translate into economic prosperity for its businesses. Three years ago, the businesses in St Albans voted to become a Business Improvement District, paying a small contribution into a pot that collectively makes a significant contributor to events, public realm, safety and marketing of the City. The BID can also help to represent those businesses in various discussions with the public and private sectors on a local, regional and national level.

As the BID Manager of St Albans BID it’s my job to make sure that the investment made by the BID Members makes the city a great place to live, work and do business, both now and in the future, and of course a large part of that work then becomes looking at ways to make the city more sustainable, in the many and various ways that that covers.

While I will acknowledge the ongoing wailing and gnashing of teeth about the ‘death of the high street’ in fact, there is an argument to say that this change in retail is actually the death throes of consumerism itself. A change from ‘want/have’ economics to ‘need/consider’ economics: the desperate and hysterical consumption of the 80s and 90s now looks decidedly distasteful and is being replaced by a borrow/reuse/packaging free/fewer-better kind of purchasing.

TimeTurn 2018 Credit Stephanie Belton (42)
Credit: Stephanie Belton

St Albans as a City is well placed to survive this change in consumer behaviour. The self-selecting curation of our retail businesses (you will find an audience if your product is good) is continuing to be demonstrated by reliable, quality local (and national) brands weathering the current climate and providing confident, good-news stories about customer experience, quality product and curated taste-making. On the internet, endless choice is overwhelming. In St Albans you will find a quality offer, selected by informed businesses, helping you to make reasoned decisions about where you shop, where you eat and where you socialise.

small bid logo picture - 19.12.2017In the wider community there are many and various entrepreneurial and disruptive businesses considering these changes in consumer behaviour and working to appeal to a considered and engaged local population. Can you eat vegan or vegetarian? Can you buy locally grown or locally made products? Can you go plastic-free, or packaging-free? Can you travel in a way that is more kind to the environment while still being relevant to what you need to get through your day? There are so many options and it can be overwhelming to know where to start to live a more sustainable life.

With this in mind, St Albans BID is delighted to sponsor the St Albans Market Takeover on Sunday 19 May. Bringing together like-minded businesses to prevent the many and various ways that small interventions by individuals can make a collective difference will help to show that actually these changes are not that insurmountable.

St Albans BID supports the Market Takeover because it’s the right thing to do, but also because the day will be fun, engaging, illuminating and most importantly, it will encourage and support enough individuals to make small changes that will, collectively make a large impact. Just like BID. Looking forward to seeing you there!


I dare you to care: a Climate Emergency in St Albans

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you the Earth is getting warmer. The news has already told you that. You don’t need me to tell you that fossil fuels are bad, and renewables are good. You know that.  And you definitely don’t need me to tell you that, without change, we’re heading directly for extinction. But maybe what you don’t know is why should you care.

Today’s blog is written by Anna  Hardisty  age 20 years – university student at Warwick , and St Albans resident.

A Critical Junction

The Earth is at a critical junction. Imagine you booked yourself in for a driving test, nine months in advance. Now imagine that it’s almost two weeks before the test and you haven’t even stepped foot in a car. You’ve got your theory test tomorrow but that’s as far as you’ve got. I think it’s fair to say the appropriate response involves a fair amount of panic. And probably frantic searching for an intensive two-week course. This is the Earth’s current dilemma. The generations before us have spent the last 70 years ignoring the problem they were creating.  The consequence is a ticking time bomb with an expected explosion date of eleven years from now. Unlike a driving test, this can’t be rescheduled, and the ramifications are unbelievably more severe.

Ed note: The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. UN Report on Climate Change

The UK is currently failing to reach its target of reducing its carbon emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change has just recommended the UK aims to be carbon neutral by 2050

Climate Refugees

By 2050 the World Bank predicts that 140 million people are likely to be climate refugees. That’s 140 million mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, babies, grandmas, grandpas, friends, neighbours, husbands, wives, doctors, soldiers, bankers, bakers, engineers, teachers, classmates, lawyers, and scientists displaced directly by global warming. They are unable to live in their homes and are forced to seek shelter and help; this would be an unprecedented refugee crisis. To give you some perspective, that’s equivalent to the whole of Russia becoming homeless. Or three UKs. Or half of the USA. The UN estimates 13.5 million were displaced by the crisis in Syria. Cast your minds back to a few years ago to the panic created by the refugee crisis then and multiply it by ten. 2050 is catastrophically too late

Let’s create a sustainable future for our world

The  Climate Emergency Petition calls for carbon neutrality for St Albans District Council by 2030.*  Eleven years sounds like a long time but in the grand scheme of things, it’s equivalent to that two-week intensive driving course you were panickily googling for earlier. Ambitious but not out of reach. We’re calling on the St Albans Council to act and use their power to make decisions that will benefit us and all those that follow. It’s time to do what the generations before us failed to do- create a sustainable future for our world.

And the truth is, it is change or have our lives changed for us. I’m twenty years old and, by current UK statistics, have another sixty years or so left on this planet. I want to have the freedoms my parents did. I want to pick a house not based solely on its likelihood of flooding. I want my children to grow up not in constant fear of famine, wildfire or war over resources. I want to be able to watch ‘Bananas in Pyjamas and ‘Happy Feet’ with the kids I babysit, without them thinking the casts are mythical creatures.

“Are we being good ancestors?”

This is a question posed to us by Jonas Salk, pioneer of the first polio vaccination. It’s not a question that crosses your mind often, if at all, as we’re understandably preoccupied with the demands of the here and now. But our future depends on keeping that question in mind constantly- when we’re choosing how to travel, what we buy at the supermarket, and who we vote for.

Sign the Climate Emergency Petition

So, sign the petition. Tell your friends. Tell your parents. Get them to sign it. Sustainable St Albans has a great list of events where you can learn about the difference you can make.

And the next time you hear about the greenhouse effect, the next time you see yet another hurricane on the news, the next time you see MPs shy away from the subject, I dare you to care. 

Anna Hardisty

*Editor note: Net zero by 2030 should be achievable for a district council with no airport or shipping in its patch, and no major imports to tackle

How do you cope with the nappies, wet wipes, sippy cups, plastic spoons….

My children used 12,000 nappies and 36,000 wet wipes between them by the time they were 2 years old. They also used 12 toddler sippy cups, 20 plastic plates, 18 bowls, and 30 plastic spoons and forks.

All of which ended up in landfill.

Today our guest blog is from Laura aka Mama Bamboo – a SustFest19 Silver Sponsor and organiser of the 1st June Verulamium Park Sustainable Picnic and taking part in the Market Takeover 19th May

The council doesn’t offer industrial composting for nappies, the wipes were the polyester kind from the supermarket and the plastic tableware was so scored and worn that I couldn’t pass it to charity.

Guilt! Guilt! More guilt! 

I started my company, Mama Bamboo, to try and reverse the awful damage I had inflicted on the environment in 4 short years. Bamaboo eco-nappies are made from bamboo, corn starch and chlorine free wood pulp. We use semi degradable SAP and package them in biodegradable wrapping. Bamaboo wipes are 100% compostable bamboo fibre. Our products offer babies a luxuriously soft and gentle product for their delicate skin. Bamboo is naturally antibacterial, temperate regulating, breathable and moisture wicking. All of which means less chance of nappy rash.

It’s also very sustainable. Bamboo grows at an amazing rate during its growing season and when harvested following the FSC guidelines it actually promotes forest growth. It requires no pesticides or fertilisers or even irrigation.

It’s also super adaptable. In addition to providing a soft cushiony fabric for nappies, it can be used to make hardwearing tableware! Amazing.

I’ve carefully developed a range of bamboo fibre tableware for toddlers and young children, featuring 8 adorable characters from the ENVU Cubs Club based on the WWF endangered species list. They are dishwasher safe, durable and wonderfully tactile. Each set is accompanied by a little storycard introducing your chosen character and giving little ones a few fun facts. It also explains why each animal is on the Endangered and Vulnerable species list, thereby engaging youngsters in early discussion regarding conversation. 5% of all profits are donated to WWF.

We will be supporting the St Albans Sustainability Festival because it is so important for conservations to start at home. We live just outside St Albans in the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside and I think it’s an environment worth protecting. We’ll be at the SustFest Market takeover on the 19th May and we’ll be hosting a Sustainable Picnic in the Park on the 1st June. We would love to see you there.


Laura a.k.a. Mama Bamboo

Heading for Extinction (and what to do about it)

Are you worried about climate change?  David Attenborough certainly is.  Addressing international climate talks last year, he called it “Our greatest threat in thousands of years…. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

We are really excited to present our  guest blog this week  from Dr Emily Spry – one of the founding members of the newly formed Extinction Rebellion St Albans

According to mainstream scientists, we have 12 years to limit the coming climate catastrophe.  Our current course leads to more extreme weather events, sea rises, food shortages, mass extinctions and large areas of our planet becoming literally uninhabitable.  Most worryingly, as temperatures rise, there is a tipping point, where feedback loops, such as the lack of sea ice leads to further warming, kick in and cannot be stopped by reducing fossil fuel use.  In other words, not just polar bear extinction but human extinction is very much on the table.

Ok, so why on earth is no one doing anything?!  Surely, this is an emergency?! Individual actions (pledging not to fly, insulating your house etc) are all well and good but rely on the few informed citizens making those choices, against the prevailing culture.  What we need is rapid and massive change at all levels of the system.

rebel for life banner
XR rebels 2018

Extinction Rebellion was born in 2018 to use the powerful tools of non-violent civil disobedience to bring the issue to centre stage.   Hundreds of Rebels, from all walks of life, have blocked roads, disrupted oil industry meetings and Government buildings and many have been arrested.  It’s a fast-growing movement, with over 150 groups around the country and many more springing up across the world.  The biggest actions so far will be happening in London from 15th April 2019.  Everyone is welcome and everyone is needed to help this movement grow.

XR worldwide
Extinction Rebellion groups worldwide – March 2019

I have two young kids.  I feel scared and deeply sad to think that when my eldest daughter turns 18, it will already be too late to limit the worst of the climate catastrophe.  By that point, human extinction may already be inevitable.

I can’t be sure that this Rebellion will help kickstart the changes we need, but there’s no doubt that carrying on as usual will not.  Please come along this Tuesday 12th March and find out more. Everyone is welcome, everyone is needed.

Professor Kate Jeffery and Dr Emily Spry will give a talk Heading for Extinction (and What to do About It) on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 at 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM at Trinity URC, 1 Beaconsfield Rd, St Albans AL1 3RD.

Dr Emily Spry


Follow us on social media to find out more.




Ideas for your Street Party

Our Street Party St Albans District is delighted to be supporting more than 70 street parties this year. Following our information sessions in February about how to apply to close a road, we are now lending out Road Closed signs to organisers. But parties are not made from signs alone. Here are a few ideas to get you started….

Our guest blog is from Nicola Wyeth, volunteer for Our Street Party St Albans District and project co-ordinator for Sustainable St Albans’ project, Playing Out. Following a previous blog in 2020 about using road closures to bring sustainability to your street, here she summarises lots of ideas for celebrating at a street party with neighbours.

Street tug of war with children and adults

Keep it simple….or go to town

There are no rules on what you do for your street party (except the sensible rules from Herts County Council here – make sure you read them!).

So… you can simply close the road and create the space and let everyone else get on with it …..or you can go to town with lots of organised events. The choice is yours and both are great

Here are a few ideas that we’ve assembled from street parties over the years we’ve been doing this. We hope you’ll find them useful. Pick and choose what works for you!

Black and white image of children dressed up for the coronation - boy is wearing a paper crown
Coronation street party

Please keep it eco

We wouldn’t be associated with Sustainable St Albans if we didn’t make this point first. Please think of the environment when organising your street party.

  • Please avoid disposables – from cups to plates, balloons to bunting – everything you do will have an impact on the environment. So try to avoid single-use, especially plastics and balloons.
  • Recycling – on clear up, think a bit better than black plastic sacks. Take 2 seconds more and bring out your recycling bins. It’s not hard to get the food waste into someone’s caddy and the glass and plastic into the wheelie bin. It makes such a difference.
  • Know how important community is and congratulate yourself that a road closure alone makes a huge difference to sustainability. From neighbours getting to know neighbours comes borrowing rather than buying, socialising & shopping locally and caring about where we live.


  • Make some bunting – paper, scrap cloth, even out of ironed plastic supermarket bags. A great way to pull neighbours together before your party is a bunting-making evening!
  • Buy bunting made from recycled fabric. You can buy some amazing bunting made from recycled fabrics. Try local companies like Jefferson Crafts or Third Wave.
  • Tablecloths – big rolls of paper work really well. Old wallpaper. Or plain paper and crayons – get the kids to decorate them.
  • Flowers – simple jam jars with local wildflowers look beautiful
  • Crockery and cutlery – in our street we get people to bring their own. However, you can also borrow – how about Green Bean Eco Packs, another local company. They even loan bunting! Please do avoid disposables if you can.
  • Posters – you can’t advertise your street party to the general public but you can still advertise it on your actual street! Put up posters on lamp-posts and in windows. Get everyone colouring them in. Just make sure they say “for residents”!
  • Pavement chalk is great for decorating the road – pictures, messages, inspiration. Get drawing!


Communal food is something that pulls people together.

  • At the bare minimum, put a packet of custard creams on a chair on the pavement and you have a gathering!
  • Take it up a notch and put a table out and ask people to bring cakes and biscuits.
  • Bake-Off competitions in the street are great – and you get to eat the entries. Add some cups of tea and you have a great British afternoon tea party.
  • If you want a full meal, barbecues are always popular. Consider communal ones (including a veggie one) brought together in a central spot with people bringing their own food to be cooked.
  • Asking people to bring food to share is also great – how about odd-numbered houses bringing sweet dishes and evens bringing savouries – or vice versa. Put it all on a communal table.
  • If you want everyone to sit together, tables down one side of the road work well (you must leave a space for emergency vehicles). Ask people to bring out their garden or kitchen tables!
  • If you choose to let people eat outside their own houses, that works too. You may need to bring them together through your activities… see below.
Table of food and bunting


  • Traditional competitions always go down well. Welly-wanging, tug-of-war and running races for starters.
  • Other traditional street games work brilliantly – a long skipping rope, French skipping (aka elastics), hopscotch, hula hoops, bubbles are great fun.
  • Don’t forget the kids will just love the space – they’ll bring out scooters, bikes, water pistols and enjoy it. And they’ll make up entertainment with what’s to hand – we heard of one street where the kids ran snail races!
Two children skipping in a long skipping rope
Photo: Nicola Calleja


  • Music – you can play music as long as it “doesn’t disrupt local residents”. Ask your neighbours – from a cappella singers to guitarists or someone with big speakers, there’s bound to be a neighbour who can sort some music if you want it.
  • Memorabilia – if you live on a street with older houses, see what you can encourage people to share. There’s fascinating material on the St Albans Local History Society website here and, if you live in Harpenden, the Harpenden Local History Society has done detailed histories of many streets, in their Street by Street webpages.
  • Quizzes – can someone write a quiz about your local area?
  • Bring and buy sales – consider putting out blankets and asking people to bring out unwanted stuff – toys, books and games work particularly well
  • Can you raise money for charity? Not necessary but a lovely addition. Many charities will give you sealed collection boxes – dot them around at your party and see if you can raise a few quid.
  • Face painting goes down well – often teens enjoy being in charge of this.
  • Dressing up is fun! Maybe as a competition.
  • Other art activities are great – let the kids go mad with pavement chalk! Or how about painting pebbles?

Child sitting on a scooter with Union Jack painted on face
Photo: Pierre Oliviere


People make your street party. It is so important to think about the people on your street when you make your plans. What would they enjoy?

Remember too, that street parties are hard for a lot of people. Going up to a group of people you don’t know very well, particularly if you live on your own, is difficult. So do think…how can you make it easier for those people. How can you involve them?

We like having stewards at the road closed points. It’s not required for a street party. However, two people per closure point in high viz means a role for people that basically involves sitting and chatting – and everyone’s a winner whether confused driver, resident who needs access to the closed space or that neighbour who wouldn’t come to the party otherwise. Think about it! More about stewards and also general advice about closing a road is in this video here.

Two stewards in high viz jackets smiling while people chat and children play in the road


Photos of street parties are great!

  • Try to have an agreed time where you’ll get a group
  • Share it with neighbours afterwards.
  • Make sure everyone knows you are going to share the photo.

Share your photos with us!

  • Having a Jubilee party? We intend to put together a piece for the Herts Ad about jubilee street parties and we would love photos of your party.
  • Please ensure they are full size images (photos from WhatsApp or similar will be too low in quality for the paper),
  • Please send photos straight after your party – on the evening of Sunday 5th June or early on Monday 6th June latest.
  • We will assume you have permission of subjects and parental permission for photos of children. Click here for a photo consent form for you to use for under 18s if useful.
  • Please send photos to
  • Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee publication of the photos in the paper.
  • We will keep the photos on file and they may be used by us and our partners (eg Sustainable St Albans, Oakman Inns, St Albans District Council, Herts County Council) online or in print. Please contact us if you wish us to subsequently delete photos.
Big group photo of a street party from above - 150 people
Photo: Pierre Oliviere


We all hope for sun but maybe it will rain. That doesn’t mean your party can’t go ahead. You just need to plan a bit!

  • Gazebos are great. If it’s hot they shade the food (and you!); if it rains they give you shelter. Ask around – does anyone have one in your street?
  • Kids don’t care about rain. So rain doesn’t have to mean cancellation! They’ll still have fun!

And finally…

In our street we have always had the attitude that we create a space and let the residents fill it as they wish. We do food, odds with savouries, evens with sweets and communal barbecues including a veggie one (bring your own food to put on them). Tables down one side of the road and some bring & buy blankets and we’re done. The kids play, the adults eat and chat – it’s fab.

In a neighbouring street, they really go to town. People eat food outside their own houses with their immediate neighbours but then everyone gathers together for the organised activities. Pimms tent, street quiz, sports-day games and tug-of-war are all planned and enjoyed. There is a large committee and the decorations are fabulous!

Both are fantastic street parties and both are massively enjoyed by the residents. There is no right or wrong with this – so our final message is – go for what works for you and simply enjoy! You’re doing a fantastic thing for your community.

Find out more

Watch the Playing Out St Albans District video and think about closing your street more than just once a year:

Free Playing Out information sessions June 2022

Advert for Playing Out information session June 15th and June 20th 2022.

Disconnect the gas!

One woman’s experience of getting the gas disconnected #GasFree.

In April 2021, I moved into a very normal house. Gas central heating, double glazing and stripey lawns. I was 63, and on my own. I planned to “eco-up” the house.

With energy prices rising and a new £5k government grant announced, more of us are starting to think about shifting to renewables or getting a heat pump – than ever before. In this blog from self-described “little old lady” and local resident Ro Rodgers, you can hear how she “eco-ed” up her house, with solar panels and a heat pump, and finally disconnected the gas! 

Smaller Lifestyle Changes too

I was downsizing, and fortunately that gave me some spare cash.  So, there have been some big-ticket investments aimed at getting the gas disconnected and installing solar panels and the heat pump, BUT ALSO many much smaller lifestyle changes like…

  • turning things off
  • getting up with the sun
  • buying very little other than food
  • never driving anywhere that I can walk

Big-Ticket items like getting the gas disconnected

This blog is about the big-ticket items and, oh my goodness, did I pick the right time to do this given what has happened with gas prices!  Before I moved in, I started to investigate solar panels and heat pumps. I was working out how I could eventually disconnect the gas and go gas-free! Much of my information came from the St Albans Sustainability Festival in 2021, but of course Google helped too!

Getting Solar Panels Fitted

The panels were easy. I got a really good quote via Solar Streets – which they did from Google Maps and a few photos I took within the house. I am lucky to have a large south facing roof now, but on my previous house I had panels on that were east and west facing. The whole installation process for getting solar panels was easy and unremarkable. By the beginning of June, I had solar panels happily working away making electricity. The solar panels came with an app so I could see how they were doing from my laptop.

“The whole installation process for getting solar panels was easy and unremarkable. By the beginning of June, I had solar panels happily working away making electricity”

The only issue I encountered was with my electricity supplier. because you need to have a 2nd Generation Smart ter if you want to get paid. I had a first-generation meter, and my supplier would not even put anyone on the waiting list for a 2nd generation meter if they had a 1st gen. This caused quite a delay to me getting paid because I had to swap energy suppliers and then go on their waiting list. 

Moral of the story

If you are thinking of getting solar panels, swap to Octopus and get a 2nd gen meter before you do anything else. [*This is a personal opinion of the author and not that of Sustainable St Albans! Ed]

Getting the Heat Pump Installed and Getting the Gas Disconnected

Disconnect the gas – and get the heat pump installed!

The heat pump followed. I had an air source heat pump installed… (there wasn’t room for a ground-source heat pump).  

It was more difficult finding a supplier because there weren’t so many options – but again the answer came from #SustFest.  I got a quote from Better Planet, who I originally spoke to at the sustainability market. 

The first thing everyone asks me is: “does it work and did you have the floors ripped up?”

Yes – the heat pump absolutely does work, and it uses the existing radiators.

So then the gas boiler was taken out and a unit was fitted outside, and that was the sum total of all the disruption. Now my heat pump unit is fitted on the outside wall of my house – but it could be anywhere outside – as long as it is away from a neighbour’s wall.

Getting used to the heat pump

I have found the heat pump more difficult to get used to than the panels. This is mainly because of the app that mine came with as it is one of those apps that decides for me what I want and doesn’t really want to let me decide for myself! It was more complicated than it should have been to get my set-up right. However, I now have a set-up that works, warms the house and the hot water beautifully, and does not munch its way through enormous amounts of electricity. 

£5k grants to get your boiler replaced

I now get quarterly payments from the government for having the heat pump, through the Renewable Heat Incentive, but I had to wait until I had lived in the house for 6 months to claim it. (The RHI no longer exists, but there is now a £5000 boiler replacement grant.)

“Once the pump was installed, I had the gas to the house disconnected.”

This proved to be remarkably easy with the supplier but a nightmare with the gas fitters. I had a real struggle getting gas fitters to understand that I no longer wanted gas in the house.

” The guy who eventually came removed my gas hob as requested but didn’t cap the gas to the house as he couldn’t believe that is what I wanted. We got there in the end.”

Final step was to get my induction hob fitted. I have to say, I love that!

Gas free living…

“I do not burn any fossil fuels”

So, now I am living in an all-electric house and generating a fair proportion of my own electricity even in the winter. I do not burn any fossil fuels. Now I have everything set up as I want, I hope to at least generate as much electricity as I use as an average across the year.

I’m moving on to eco-up the garden now!

Ro Rodgers

Links and resources:

Find our ‘Get some Solar’ resource page here, with all sorts of useful information.

To find installers:

Local Installers used by Ro:

Government £5k Boiler Upgrade Grantsee here for information

Solar Streets photos: installing solar panels. A Solar Streets spokesperson said:

“As electricity prices have surged even higher, (by at least 54% at the price cap increase from 1st April and likely more) the return on investment on solar panel systems is actually better than it has been since Solar Streets started 3 years ago.

The time it takes to break even has fallen -from around 11-12 years to 7-8 years – at current typical levels of pricing (based on Octopus Price of 38p/kWp versus their price 12 months ago of 16p/kWh). 

The headline price for the popular 10 panel system with a capacity of 3.7 kWp is now £4,810.  That system will save 0.75 tonnes of CO2 per year

Companion Planting – easier than you think!

Companion planting is the growing of different plant species close together, for expected benefits in productivity – and it’s easier than you think.

It is hardly surprising that companion planting can seem to be a rather mysterious art. Many books and articles throw around statements such as “carrots love onions!” with little explanation or evidence, and in fact the expected benefits of companion planting come in many different ways.

Our guest blog this month on Companion Planting is from Naomi Distill, a very knowledgeable gardener and the inspiration behind Incredible Edible St Albans, a project of FoodSmiles St Albans and a past winner of Environmental Champion in the St Albans Mayor’s Pride Awards.

Every garden is an eco-system – with more organisms than we know – affecting it…

Benefits of Companion Planting

  • Pest control 
    • using plants which repel pests by smell
    • using plants which attract predatory insects to eat pests
    • by trap-cropping (using alternative plants as decoys to attract pests away from the main crop)
    • by disrupting the odds of a pest successfully landing on its desired host plant 
  • Increased pollination (using plants that attract extra pollinators)
  • Maximising use of space or time (e.g. catch-cropping by planting fast-growing extra crop between a slower-growing main crop, or growing plants with different root depths together to make the most of root space)
  • Maximising efficiency by grouping plants with similar needs
  • Exploitation of another plant’s physical properties (e.g. one that shades, supports or protects another, or one that provides groundcover to reduce weeds and evaporation)
  • Effects from chemical secretions released into the soil by roots
  • Adding nutrition to the garden (i.e. nitrogen-fixing plants or those with very deep roots can accumulate nutrition and make it available to other plants).

Companion planting is an inexact science

Though beginners often get started with companion planting using a long list of ‘rules’ that simply pair plants together – or forbid pairing them – these rules fail to take into account the complex relationships found in a garden, and can make veg-plot planning feel like doing an impossible jigsaw! But companion planting is an extremely inexact science.

Every garden is an ecosystem, with more organisms than we know affecting it: feeding from it, fighting for survival in it, and putting inputs into it. Soil life below the surface is even more complex, and the unique mineral make-up of your soil has its effects too, and then there’s the microclimate of your garden to consider. No two plots are the same – and no two years are the same.

Learning the Hard Way: Mistakes and Myths

The first year this trial of companion planting worked a dream; not an aphid in sight and the lettuces seemed better than ever. The second year however, there were soon aphids all over the lettuce – and the coriander too! Its repellent power could obviously not be relied upon.

As I looked round the allotment at all the other plants nearby, I quickly realised there were, of course, other factors in play when you tried companion planting. Perhaps something else nearby attracted the aphids? Or a shortage of other food plants elsewhere brought them? Maybe those lettuces were particularly attractive? Could there have been higher numbers of the pest this year? The possibilities were endless.

“Little did I know that horseradish plants are thugs, with deep roots, and very hard to remove!’

Horseradish and Potatoes – yes or no?

Another memorable lesson of trying out companion planting was realising how foolish it had been to plant horseradish throughout my potato patch. I had read that horseradish repels potato-munching eelworms and wireworms. Little did I know then that horseradish plants are thugs, with deep roots, and very hard to remove! How anyone can make that pairing work is a mystery to me!

Onions with carrots? Sage with brassica?

Two pairings often quoted in companion planting books are onions with carrots (to repel carrot fly), and sage with brassicas (to repel white butterflies). However, in truth it seems that you need far more of the repellent plant than the intended crop in order for the rules to work well. Companion planting here means several rows of onions per row of carrots, and many sage plants per brassica plant. It might just work out if you don’t eat very many carrots, but who can use that much sage?

Green Beans and nitrogen

Another common companion planting suggestion is that beans should be grown close to crops that would benefit from the extra nitrogen fixed by their roots, however this is not supported by science (see this article, or this). Though the bean roots may gather nitrogen early on in life, most of it is used by the plant for the formation of flowers, pods and seeds, and only a negligible amount remains or goes into the soil.

Cabbages with calendula

An Easier Method: Companion Planting- the four rules

So I’d like to propose a different approach to companion planting, focusing on biodiversity and natural design. This method means including as many useful plants in the garden as possible, in any layout. Our Incredible Edible gardens use this approach and I have used it in my allotment and garden for years, and there are only four rules:

1. Right plant, right place

Plant the sun-loving crops in the sunny spot, the shade-tolerant ones in the shade, the damp-loving ones in the wet corner. Keep the tall ones out of the worst of the wind, if possible. Under the trees in the Incredible Edible gardens we have adopted a forest gardening approach. We choose low-maintenance edibles that happily grow under trees in the wild.

2. Mix things up

Minimise traditional rows, and interplant with abandon! Add flowers and herbs to your veg patch and veggies to your flowerbeds. When a pest settles on a new plant, don’t let it find a whole tasty row all laid out and waiting! Make it harder for them. This intermingling approach makes crop rotation much less important, which is a help in any small plot where rotation can be tricky.

3. Common sense first!

Let common sense and your own observations rule. Use trial and error to find what works best in your own garden and your own microclimate. Think logically about the relationships between your plants, and the physical shade and shelter they provide. If you’re not sure how big a plant will get or how long it will live, look it up! But don’t overthink it. With gardening you always get another chance next year.

4. Maximise plant diversity

Employ plenty of great all-round companion plants to increase diversity: those listed below will enrich your garden, whatever plant you grow them next to. The more biodiverse your garden is, the more easily it will find a healthy natural balance. It will give you better crops, with fewer problems. Animal diversity helps too, so keep your garden free of pesticides, and welcome wildlife by providing plenty of habitat.

Eight best companion plants to use in your garden

Eight Best Companion Plants To Use In Your Garden

Edible Alliums

Garlic, chives and onions repel a variety of pests – including the four legged kind. They also attract pollinators with their flowers. Their roots accumulate antifungal sulphur in the topsoil which can benefit nearby plants. They are a great companion for virtually anything!

Calendula (pot marigold)

This is a brilliant plant for a veg plot, as it attracts a wide variety of insects including aphid-munching hoverflies. It is edible and medicinal, flowers from early till late and often overwinters (cut back the dead bits and it’ll often reshoot from near the ground). It is always happy among veggies and easily self-seeds to save you a job next year.

French marigold

Another powerhouse in the garden; repelling pests, attracting beneficial insects, and releasing secretions in the soil which keep nasty nematodes away.


As well as attracting pollinators, these are an excellent ‘trap’ crop, attracting blackfly and cabbage butterflies to lay their eggs away from your main crops. Once they’re infested though, don’t let the pests breed in your garden! It’s better to dispose of the infested parts right away.

Flowering herbs: mint, oregano, marjoram, thyme, dill, fennel, lovage, lavender, hyssop, camomile

Herbs are a worthy addition to your garden for their culinary benefits alone. But they also attract a huge variety of insects, many repel pestilence, and some (especially camomile and parsley) are said to improve the health and flavour of nearby plants in more subtle ways through the soil too. Note that lovage and fennel are larger plants than most here. Give each a good space to itself and note that they can get very tall. In fact, their height will attract insects from even further afield!

Comfrey or stinging nettles

Though you’ll want to give these a corner of the garden to themselves (there is no digging comfrey out once it’s in!) they can provide a really useful service in the garden by bringing extra nutrition up from the depths of the soil with their deep roots. Harvest this nutrition by cutting the leaves a few times a year and adding them to your compost heap, or scattering them on veg beds and leaving them to decompose. You can also leave them rotting in water to make a (smelly!) concentrated liquid plant feed. Comfrey attracts bees too, and stinging nettles are an important food plant for certain butterflies.


Experiments showed that growing clover under brassicas consistently reduced the success of cabbage moths looking for a host plant, thus bringing a protective effect. What’s more, the clover offers bee-attracting flowers, and anytime it gets too much you can dig areas of it into the soil (preferably in spring before flowering) for a nitrogen-boosting effect.

Nectar-rich annual flowers (e.g. sunflowers, borage, cosmos, cornflowers, zinnias, scabious, echium)

A few favourite annual flowers such as these will fill gaps in the garden and spread insect-attracting colour anywhere; your local pollinators and predators will thank you! Many will self-seed too (stop deadheading by late October to allow this) and give you a new round of flowers for free next year.

So put the rulebooks away, focus on increasing the diversity in your garden, and always let common sense rule!

Local Food Gardening Events: find out more

Come and grow with us! Volunteer at the Incredible Edible gardens on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Email Incredible Edible here to join the mailing list or find out more about Incredible Edible St Albans

See more about FoodSmiles here

Find out about Sustainable St Albans Open Food Garden summer programme

If you live in Sopwell ward, you can try some food gardening at the Grow Community Sopwell Community Garden

SustFest22 Gardening Events

During SustFest22 (15-31 May) there are loads of gardening events to look out for.  

The programme comes out on 14th April, on social media and the Sustainable St Albans website. Here are just a few events, to whet your appetite! 

  • Grow Community Sopwell Community Garden Open Day including Seed & Seedling Swap, 15th May, 10:30am-12:30pm
  • ‘Adopt a plant for your pollinators’ at Greenwood URC, May 17th and 19th,    2:30-3:30pm
  • Visit the CDAH Community Garden on Hixberry Lane, 19th May, drop in 10:30-2pm
  • ‘How to grow Asians herbs and spices’ with HAWA, also 19th May, 12-2pm, at the CDA community garden on Hixberry Lane
  • ‘Gods Green House’ plant sale and eco garden tour, at St Paul’s Church Blandford Road, 21 May, 10:30-12:30pm
  • ‘Come and Grow’ at Incredible Edibles, Russell Avenue, 22nd May 1-4pm
  • ‘How we built an eco garden for next to nothing’, at Marshalswick Baptist Free Church, 24th May, 2-3pm
  • FoodSmiles open day, Hammonds End Farm, 25th May, 1:30-4pm
  • Grand Opening of the George Street Canteen Wildlife Garden, 29 May, 11-3pm

Look after local trees, and they will look after you!

St Albans has numerous special places – in the parks or little walkways, overhung with native trees, or sentinels in our own roads. They provide familiarity and comfort.  Read on to find ways to look after local trees.

This blog, from founder members of Trees of St Albans and local tree wardens Anthony Helm and Amanda Yorwerth, celebrates the beauty, and vulnerability, of the trees which surround us, and how you can help. 

Celebrate trees!

Looking after trees is as much about care for ourselves - this blog celebrates trees and explores simple ways that you can help your local landscape.

We have grown up with them.

They act as touchstones: we want to explore more.

Woods; in fiction and in real life, are highy evocative places.

The loss of tree canopy matters

Sadly, many trees are under threat, and some might not be enjoyed by those who will succeed us.  The reasons are varied.  

Some, like cherry trees, were planted long ago and have come to the end of their natural life; others are succumbing to disease, like ash dieback, or pests.

  • Vehicles are in many places destroying the soil through which trees breath, move and feed
  • More are being lost because of building developments or the possibility of legal actions
  • Others are felled under the accusation of being ‘overgrown’ or ‘casting shade’

Trees offer ‘silent benefits’

All this matters not just because trees are beautiful.  More importantly they provide a myriad of unseen services: shelter from winds; cooling from increasingly harsh heat waves; filtration of harmful airborne particles; baffling sound from noisy roads; rejuvenation of soil; amelioration from devastating flooding; habitats for many species.  

If all this were not sufficient, trees absorb carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse gas) – and provide oxygen – without which humans would suffocate.

Old trees need protection
To look after local trees, as a matter of the greatest priority, we must maintain and rebuild our local tree canopy. 

“The loss of a significant mature lime or 150-year-old plane tree in a city road will have an immediate aesthetic impact but also a serious, unfelt ecological impact.”

One mature tree is worth thousands of new plantings.

A major focus for everyone in St Albans District wanting to look after trees must be to work a lot harder to retain these silent friends; we should stand up and speak for our trees, with neighbours and our political representatives, at all levels.

New trees should be planted 

We have to renew as well, and pre-pandemic proposals gave the prospect that thousands of trees would be planted in the District.  Now organisations, families and many individuals look after local trees by actively planting, or are planning to plant, trees over the next year or so.  

The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative, and other projects aim at tackling climate change and improving the environment.  

St Albans District Council, Herts County Council, the Parishes, and many others, e.g. schools, are involved, with local people, especially children, keen to assist, in the significant plantings of very young trees.  Councillors, from their own budgets, are also planting single trees on highway verges and in green spaces.  And we are seeing that sustainability is inspiring the planting of community orchards in small pockets of land for local food.

If you are part of a group which manages pockets of land – a school, a church, a parish council – then why not plant a tree (or more!) as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy?

Despite all the above, there is a net loss of tree canopy in urban areas and each of us can do our own bit.  

We can all do our bit to look after trees! – planting in the garden

Those with gardens can:

  • Find a space for a fruit tree
  • Replace a fence with a hedge of native plants (especially at front of properties)
  • Gardening is about possibilities and change; nowadays the options for species selection are vast. See the RHS guides to trees, hedges, and flowering hedges.

We can also spend more time looking around our immediate locality; seeing which trees are damaged or diseased or need releasing from a choking tree-tie.  In the dryer months new trees will need watering.  Pop out and water the young trees near your house, or on your regular dog walk. 

We can all do our bit! – caring for street trees

We, as individuals, can do the detailed monitoring and undertake the small actions that councils can’t. 

Report major issues here –

Care for trees, and you care for yourself

It can create a spring in your step. But you already knew this….

Looking after our own patch (our borrowed landscape) is a pleasure.  It is not difficult or time consuming and can be built into normal activities.  It allows us to form our own connection with nature; release tensions; make us physically stronger and build creativity.  

Get more involved

To follow up and support local trees, why not become an SADC Tree Warden, join a Wilderhood Watch Group ( and sign up to Trees of St Albans on Facebook?

SustFest22 – If you are in a local group and planning an action to support trees – why not do it as part of the 2022 St Albans Sustainability Festival? See more here.