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Photograph: Andy Aitchison
Photograph: Andy Aitchison

Did you know that there’s a carbon-neutral community in Sutton?

BedZED has been setting a precedent for green living for nearly 20 years now

Written by
Nicole Garcia Merida

It could come as a surprise that the UK’s first carbon-neutral community was built way back in 2002. And it’s in Sutton. BedZED was created by Bioregional, a charity that works to develop more environmentally friendly ways of living. Co-founders Sue Riddlestone and Pooran Desai were looking for a place to build a sustainable office, but when Sutton Council put up a plot of land for sale ‘it was so large we thought, why not build homes too?’ says Riddlestone. The award-winning development became the blueprint for environmentally friendly communities across the world, including North West Bicester in Oxfordshire, the UK’s first eco-town.

As well as 100 homes, BedZED is made up of office space and community facilities. The founders used local materials and upcycled products to create the space, constructed a biomass boiler that uses sustainably sourced wood pellets to warm up homes, and installed solar panels to provide some electricity. But the thing Riddlestone likes best about BedZED is its sense of community. ‘BedZED residents know 20 of their neighbours by name,’ she says. ‘In nearby streets that falls to eight people.’

There are plenty of other perks to living at BedZED apart from going to sleep knowing you’re doing your bit for the planet. ‘We have had a community bar on the estate for the last decade or so,’ says David Tchilingirian, a community leader who has lived there for 16 years. Nick, its founder, has moved out, but he remains committed to supplying locals with well-priced pints. ‘Once a month or so, he goes down to the local breweries to get a couple of kegs of beer, some wine. He sells it at a small margin to the local community.’ There’s also BedZED pavilion, which hosts everything from yoga to craft classes, and BedZED field. The community came together to turn a formerly barren piece of land into a ‘green oasis’ filled with trees and homemade benches. Recently, they hosted a fair with a bouncy castle, local vendors and good food.

Best of all? The flats are so well insulated Tchilingirian hasn’t turned on his heating for 14 months. ‘I don’t even know if the pipes still work, to be honest.’ 

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