SEAchange has two strands:
- A community project to address our carbon footprint. We are a mainly commuting community, with high heating bills from living in old houses. We see the disused kirk – an old stone building – as ideal to demonstrate what can be done with high spec insulation, ground-source heating, renewable energy. A centre with a café, sharing information for learning together what changes individuals can make through lifestyle choices.
Equally vital to our project, we plan to buy land to plant trees to offset emissions and to provide community benefit. We are working towards becoming a carbon neutral community, with enthusiasm to discover the most effective ways to achieve this. We will share what we learn, and hope to be part of creating a growing groundswell of action and creative ideas generating change. At the same time we want to increase our sense of community as we work together.
- A need was identified in our consultation for drop-in ways to meet. In winter people can feel isolated and lonely – a community space with a café, fostering friendships, would also provide opportunities for local artists and musicians.
A community ballot held in Nov-Dec 2019 showed that 74% wanted to purchase the Slains Kirk building for this project, and additionally 75% wanted to buy the land to take forward creating the community woodland.
The ballot followed a year of research into the practical viability of the project, with awards of grant funding from the Formartine Area Committee, The Architectural Heritage Fund, and Just Enterprise. All this funding enabled professional help, with a valuation, a condition report on the building, architectural designs, a structural survey, estimated costs by a quantity surveyor, a feasibility study, and help with reviewing our business plan. Grant funding also made possible the independent community ballot.
We believe one of the key means of achieving and facilitating both strands of the SEAchange project is through purchasing the old Slains Kirk building and creating a community information centre with a café, together with nearby land which will provide car parking alongside an area of community woodland that we can create together.
A former church that was built in 1805, Slains Kirk sits on the northern edge of the attractive coastal village of Collieston. With walls of traditional solid stone construction, and the roof being pitched and slated, the property is a Category B listed building.
On the land which we plan to buy we will plant trees which will help offset some of our carbon emissions by sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide. This woodland will create opportunities for volunteering together, growing a sense of well-being alongside growing the trees.
The land will also be essential in making possible the necessary car park near to the building, and this will lead into the community woodland, including a children’s play area.
Building transformed into a café
A high priority will be repairing the building and renovating it to equip and open the café, which will provide a warm and welcoming space that people will enjoy coming to, and where they can meet others. It has been expressed repeatedly in our consultation with the community that some people feel a sense of isolation and loneliness, especially in the winter months, with the lack of a place with opportunities to drop in for company.
The building would become both a central focus for our community and an example and model of how an old stone-built property could be insulated to the highest specifications, heated with renewable energy (e.g. air/ground source heat with additionally electricity needs provided by solar / wind), and providing a net input of electricity to the grid. It will demonstrate what is achievable, helping us learn together how to insulate our own homes, and how to heat them more efficiently using low carbon alternatives. By discovering ways to reduce high fuel bills, this will also make a difference for people who find it hard to adequately heat their homes at present.
The café will be a place where climate change facts can be presented in easily accessible ways, with wall displays, information on napkins, menus and table covers about what we can each do through our lifestyle choices in the ways we travel, heat our homes, the ways we consume energy, the food we eat and how we live.
Planting community woodland
The purchase of land to develop Community Woodland is an equally important aspect of this project. It will be a visible step towards a carbon-neutral Collieston and Slains, illustrating the area of trees required to offset each individual commuting journey.
Planting this area of land will illustrate that larger areas would be needed for us to become completely carbon neutral. It is an important initial step which will be key in raising awareness of the impact and cost in carbon emissions of car journeys for commuting, encouraging use of public transport, car sharing, home-working and other alternatives to car use.
The woodland will become a resource for education about the environment, as well as about climate change and low carbon living – with the outcome that we will all be better informed to make choices about lifestyle.
In our community we have a number of experts on wildlife habitat, as well as on tree-planting and aftercare, who have already volunteered to help ensure that the community woodland area will be well planned and managed. They will work together with less experienced volunteers. There is already a lot of enthusiasm for creating community woodland, which will provide leisure and amenity value for the community, with paths for walks and a play area for families with children.
Creating and maintaining the woodland area will improve physical and mental health for volunteers, as well as for users who will be able to find relaxation enjoying it. Working together to plant the trees will help grow our feeling of community, and of well-being.
Tree-planting will also add to biodiversity by creating wildlife habitats.
We have already started holding open community meetings to take this project forward, inviting speakers with scientific knowledge, and focussing together on climate change, behaviour change, transport emissions and alternatives, the climate impacts of food and other relevant topics organised with the help of Prof Pete Smith, and in collaboration with Aberdeen Climate Action.
Everyone in the community will benefit from this project, and we hope it will also be a positive influence more widely as people come to the café from further afield.
The community will have a place to drop in and socialise, which will also become an income stream to fund further improvements, potentially helping to address community transport issues in the future.
We will grow in knowledge about climate change, and a by-product of reducing our carbon footprint will be lower heating bills. Keeping warm is a problem for a number of people here. Invited speakers will include expert advice on heating, insulation and energy saving.
We are applying for grant funding for purchase and development costs. Work on the woodland area will be done by volunteers, who have already expressed enthusiasm for this, and are eager to start on the project.
An independent feasibility study and financial forecasts produced with help from Just Enterprise, indicate that the café operation once running should generate returns annually increasing from £4k in the first year, to in excess of £30k within 3 years. A risk analysis is presented at the end of the SEAchange Business Plan. The café will be run as a trading arm of the SCIO, employing a manager and other staff who will be responsible for day-to-day running, reporting to the SCIO trustees who will have overall responsibility.
Our project has grown out of the individual and shared visions which have been expressed by the community. All the research that has been done through grant funding awards, together with the community ballot results – and still growing community support and enthusiasm – indicates that this project is both viable and important to take forward.