Winds of change in S6

Mark Woodward of Green Directions at Townfield Head Farm, Stannington: with the farm wind turbine
Mark Woodward of Green Directions at Townfield Head Farm, Stannington: with the farm wind turbine

MARK Woodward and Sarah Brown’s seven-year-old energy and sustainability project continues on the hill above Stannington, marked by one of Sheffield’s first wind turbines.

The couple moved into Townfield Head Farm in 2003 with the aim of turning the nearly 200-year-old farmhouse into a smallholding, family home for two adults, three teenagers and a baby and a showpiece for energy efficient technology.

“We wanted to marry the two sides of the sustainability agenda,” Mark says. “On one side there’s the new green technology of heat pumps and solar panels and on the other there’s the respect for traditional husbandry and for producing your own food. For us it’s not one or the other, it’s the best of both worlds.”

Mark is a former teacher, Oftsed inspector and audio engineer, while Sarah works as a barrister. You need money to make the changes needed for a project like ‘Green Directions’ and the couple were prepared to invest tens of thousands to create their home and business according to their ambitious principles. But after only a few years, the investment is paying off.

“We’ve generated 70,000 kilowatt hours in just over five years,” says Mark. “That’s three or four times the energy use of a typical family house and equates to about 37 tonnes of CO2 saved, which is a massive amount.”

How to make such savings has been Mark’s work over several years. His advice is that insulation is the single most effective step, particularly for old stone houses like his farm. (Stud walls are needed, as they would be for many Sheffield terraces, but they’re worth it: he demonstrates by walking from the insulated to currently non-insulated parts of the farmhouse. The drop in temperature is not unlike stepping outside on a cool day).

The next step is to invest in renewables, he says, but do plan carefully. Small turbines don’t work well enough in most urban locations due to erratic wind and turbulence. Solar panels are usually a better bet for city dwellers, particularly now, due to the changes in tariffs and potential paybacks once installed. “It’s also very motivating,” he says of renewable energy. “It makes you aware of the energy you use.”

Mark’s solution for his home and business is to use the wind of the high moors available most days outside his back door (“I’m told the next comparable height east is the Ural Mountains,” he says). This is combined with a ground source heat pump powered by his turbine to heat the buildings, a programme of serious insulation and a set of solar arrays. He’s also applied for planning permission for another wind turbine further away from the house.

The third part of the energy equation for Mark and Sarah is the water: they’ve installed a rainwater collection and filtering system that provides all their utility and drinking water except for times of drought.

That’s the green technology side. The traditional food and farming side is ongoing: three Tamworth pigs (so far), a handful of horses, a pork curing and small meat production business, a little chocolate making and vegetable and fruit growing ranging from cabbage and fennel to quince, pears and redcurrants.

And finally there’s the business: the farm is now about to restart life as a conference, training and green education centre, using its own energy technology and its position overlooking the valleys of western Sheffield and the Peak District as a theme for visits by companies, schools, colleges, environment groups and individuals.

“As a place to come away from the workplace or classroom, I think it breaks the mould,” Mark says. “It begs questions when you come to a place like this. Children can see and learn about wind speed and green technology and the things they hear about climate change start to make a little more sense.

“I’d like to think that the same opportunities arise for adults, when you can put ideas in front of people and they can see how they might work for them and benefit them when it comes to saving resources.”

Mark is convinced that times have moved on from the concern felt five years ago about the first turbines in Sheffield. He says local people have overwhelmingly supported the farm’s changes and he believes he’s been able to demonstrate how little noise and visual impact a small turbine makes. As an RSPB member he also knows from experience how much impact a single turbine has on injuries to the bird population (at the last count, none whatsoever.)

He believes residents and the local authority are generally positive about appropriately sited turbines and he notes that changes in regulations and payments for renewable energy generation will help encourage more wind and sun power over the next few years – if his new turbine is given the go-ahead it will generate income as well as power. (His solar panels already do so).

The final part of the modern sustainability equation is now about to start for Mark and Sarah. It’s always been important for Mark to be involved with the local community and he now finds he works in tandem with local farmers and others to pass knowledge and expertise to and fro: they advise him about building and husbandry and he tells them how to save money by running their farms and businesses on less power.

The long-term aim is to provide employment for three or four local people, he says.

And looking around the local valleys beyond his turbine, he notes the farming community of Sheffield Six is growing into the new millennium very effectively with tourist attractions, high quality farming, small local businesses and now a green technology and education centre.

There’s still work to be done at Townfield Farm but Mark is happy with his pigs and his interactive whiteboard, his turnips and his heat pump.

“There’s a growing green economy in Sheffield Six,” he says proudly.

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