Ashton Hayes village in Cheshire are preparing to celebrate its upcoming 20th anniversary as the UK's first carbon-neutral village.

The idea was launched in 2005 with the backing of the parish council and the initiative of resident Garry Charnock.

Mr Charnock, a non-executive director at RSK Group, is set to share the village's story at the Hay Festival 2024.

The project, originally intended to run for five years, has successfully achieved a reduction of 45 per cent in carbon emissions, as per the 2016 review by the University of Chester.

Going Carbon Neutral project founder Mr Charnock said: "In the first two or three years of the project we were determined not to jump straight into technologies.

Chester and District Standard: The project has been ongoing since 2005

"We wanted to focus on behavioural change and what could be done at no cost to the villagers.

"In those early months, 90% of the village wanted to do something to make a difference but many were telling us they felt like there was nothing they could personally do."

The University of Chester played a pivotal role in the project's achievements, with Professor Roy Alexander's team provided residents with a route map.

Mr Charnock highlighted that this initiative not only generated a sense of belonging but also enhanced community spirit, with neighbours sharing tips and insights.

Significant reductions in energy costs were achieved through these lifestyle changes.

By the project's second year, the village had already saved 25 per cent on energy costs.

Mr Charnock said: "It became apparent to us quite quickly that we could likely reach the 50% reduction mark on our own through the many different lifestyle changes we had been implementing.

"Things like running the boiler at a slightly lower temperature, switching out light bulbs for energy saving ones and using the car less – these things are what have had the impact in the village."

However, he also highlighted the need for changes to legislation and regulation, specifically regarding national renewables generation, transport emissions, and boiler phase outs, for the village to surpass the 50 per cent mark.

The Going Carbon Neutral project inspired other community initiatives including the formation of an energy company, installation of solar panels on the village school, and purchase of the village playing fields and sports pavilion.

The community now plans to buy the village pub.

Mr Charnock said: "In 2011, we successfully established Ashton Hayes Community Energy, a common interest company owned by the village, to promote renewable energy.

"When we were thinking about technologies and the role they may play in the project, it was important to us that whatever we did was wholly owned by the people of the village.

"The energy company now owns and manages the solar panels on the village school and sports pavilion and has played a significant role in building the village’s renewables capacity."

The project has gained worldwide media attention and saw Ashton Hayes hosting journalists and TV crews from Germany, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, Sweden, and Turkey.

Mr Charnock said these communities connected with Ashton Hayes to implement similar projects at home.

Furthermore, Mr Charnock's dedication to the project and his vision for community engagement on climate action earned him an honorary doctorate of science from the University of Chester in April 2022.

Mr Charnock has said: "The success of the Ashton Hayes carbon neutral project is entirely down to the community.

"The village has driven this from the beginning and has made our ambition to achieve 100% carbon reduction a real possibility. It was always about the journey to that goal – the village residents have inspired each other to take on the challenge and have built such a strong sense of belonging and community wellbeing across all generations.

"That is the real gift of what we have achieved over the last 20 years."