Greg Barker, the Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, joined local MP Steve Brine at the Kings Worthy home of Cool Communities EcoGroup leader Sarah Cramoysan on Monday 9 June to hear about Cool Communities, the new initiative from Winchester Action on Climate Change.

Over coffee, Susie Phillips, the Cool Communities organiser at WinACC, explained that Cool Communities focuses on practical action. The programme is fun, and involves people doing things together. By making specific, targeted changes, people can significantly reduce their carbon footprint. 

The unique Cool Communities handbook gives a menu of achievable changes and the measurable carbon reduction of each. This means that people can choose changes that suit their lifestyle, while adding them up to reach the target of 2,500 kilos per household in six weeks.

Susie said: “The handbook lists all sorts of different things people can do, and they all add up. For example, we now have one day a week when we won't use the tumble dryer, and I make the kids wash up by hand at the weekend.” 

Sarah, three other EcoGroup leaders Joy Housham and Clare and Brian Shorter, and people from their groups includingDebbie Cauldwell and Emma Lowres enthusiastically explained the green changes they’d made after talking over the ideas in the Cool Communities handbook. 

“I gave up the second car”, said Joy, who lives in Sparsholt, “and I shut the rooms we don't use so I didn't waste money and energy heating them”. 

“I thought I knew it all, but I learnt new things”, said Debbie. “We looked at all the things in our dustbin, and worked out how we could recycle more just by reading the codes carefully”.  She was pleased that it had been a way for her to get her children thinking about being green, too. Flying is particularly bad for global warming, so one of the people had decided only to fly on holiday every other year. 

Speaking afterwards, Greg Barker said: "Steve told me Cool Communities was something I had to hear about and I'm so glad he brought me to Winchester to do just that. Susie and the team are really onto something here!  Ultimately I think it will work because it's about people making a positive choice for themselves to make improvements to their lives. I look forward to reading the report of their pilot study and supporting it as it takes off around Winchester and beyond."

Steve Brine added: "This was such an upbeat conversation. It wasn't tied down by ideological baggage, it just focused on practical daily measures we can all take to reduce our impact on the environment, and save money. I've been doing a number of the measures myself and once you start you really do want to keep going."

People are invited to join an EcoGroup, which meets four times, by a neighbour. “I found it gave me a way in”, said Sarah. “Lots of people want to do something but they don't know where to start, and you can feel uncomfortable talking about it”. Gradually, as Cool Communities spreads round a neighbourhood, it becomes normal for people to be climate-aware. “We’re all going to look at each other’s garden’s now, to see what vegetables we’re growing”, said Clare. 

Winchester City Council commissioned WinACC to run a pilot of 13 EcoGroups between May 2013 and January 2014. This was the first time this new handbook has been used in the UK, after WinACC got permission from its original author in the USA, David Gershon, to revise the handbook for English readers. WinACC will run two more pilot EcoGroups after revising the handbook again, and then if they get further financial backing from Winchester City Council they will launch a district-wide roll-out.

WinACC’s long-term ambition is to find a national sponsor to roll the programme out across the country. So they were delighted when the Minister agreed to write an introduction to the new edition of the handbook.