South Cambridgeshire District Council: Zero Carbon Communities grant scheme

The Zero Carbon Communities grant scheme is part of a wider programme of practical and financial support to non-profit organisations and parish councils for action with local communities on climate change.

The grant scheme provides an annual round of funding for projects on themes such as active travel (cycling, walking, public transport), energy efficiency improvements to community buildings, shifts to lower carbon diets, planting trees and recycling. The wider programme provides workshops, forums and an e-bulletin for networking and sharing of good practice and ideas.

The challenge 

How do we support and encourage the residents of our largely rural district, which encircles the city of Cambridge, to reduce their carbon footprints, and build community at the same time? 
How do we make the most of the passion and energy for action on climate change that many of our residents have, and find local solutions to the challenges of decarbonising?

The solution 

In July 2019, the Council appointed a dedicated Project Officer as part of its Climate and Environment Team to work closely with parish councils and community groups to deliver the Zero Carbon Communities programme. The remit is to deliver a grant scheme to engage the public on climate change via activities which reduce carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, and promote behaviour change towards low carbon lifestyles. The programme includes a quarterly e-newsletter and a programme of events and workshops.

In 2019/2020, the first round of Zero Carbon Communities grants was awarded. 42 applications were received from grass roots projects with 19 receiving funding totalling £120,959. A second round in December 2020 attracted 45 eligible applications and awarded 17 schemes a total of £94,832. A third round of grants is now under way with another £100,000 in the pot. Groups are invited to bid for sums between £1,000 and £15,000 with the criteria for applications changing slightly with each round to cover as wide a selection of projects as possible. Aimed at empowering local groups to take action themselves, the funding for the grants comes from business rates from renewable energy sites in South Cambridgeshire which are retained by the Council and earmarked for use in green initiatives.

The first round saw successful bids from projects focusing on raising awareness and educating people on the issues around carbon emissions, such as Cambridge Carbon Footprint’s Net Zero Now project to run conferences and training sessions to build skills and knowledge enabling a local response to the climate crisis and to develop an online hub of resources; and Cambridge Sustainable Food’s 12-month ‘Food Our Future’ campaign to raise awareness of the links between carbon emissions and meat and dairy consumption. 

Cycling projects were also prominent with schemes for electric bikes, bike lockers and cycle stands, pop-up bike shops, and safe cycling and repair workshops, and a campaign to identify changes needed to improve cycling routes. Other environmental initiatives included drinking water refill stations, tree and hedge planting, a food bank to encourage vegetable growing, and a low energy lighting scheme in a community building.

The second round concentrated more fully cycling initiatives, community buildings and tree planting, such as the Milton Cycling Campaign to improve cycling and other travel links with cycle parking stands at key sites in the parish to encourage the reduction of routine car use; and a project to replace a gas boiler with an air source heat pump, solar PV and energy monitor in the community church room of the Parish Church in Waterbeach.

Other schemes included replacing inefficient convection heating panels with infra-red panels in a village hall saving £1,600 per year; and the planting of a forest garden, a community garden and orchard for the growing of fruit and vegetables, mature trees for a recreation ground’s play area, 3,000 native trees to create new woodlands, and seedbeds for drought-resistant wildflower species to grow in a community meadow.
The Council also provided energy surveys for community buildings for an additional ten organisations.

The third round of grant funding will be looking for applications featuring community buildings, tree planting and nature, and other exceptional projects.

To ensure the Council’s carbon reduction aims are shared with the wider community, part of each successful application needs to show a community engagement element and the Council provides branded marketing materials for each scheme awarded a grant. The quarterly newsletter continues to give further support and advice to local residents with news of what the council is doing itself and inspiring stories from other organisations.

In February 2021, the Council partnered with local community groups for its first ever Climate and Environment Fortnight, championing ideas on how residents, communities and business

The impact

While COVID-19 delayed the start of many of the successful projects, the organisations involved have continued to work and prepare behind the scenes and around a third have already completed. Some of the cycling and tree planting projects were the first to get fully under way, giving impetus, hope and enthusiasm for the first green shoots of a green recovery out of the pandemic. 

Communication of the Council’s aims and information around the practical ways of delivering carbon reductions is also reaching over 500 people via the quarterly newsletter, while the successful grants projects are publicised to the wider community via the South Cambs quarterly magazine, to the local media with press releases, and shared on social media and the Council’s website. Publicity material has also been provided for all applicants to help promote the work of the Council. The online Climate and Environment Fortnight 2021 attracted over 600 viewers to its free webinar events.

How is the new approach being sustained?

It is planned to repeat the grant scheme annually. 

Lessons learned

The success of the grant has demonstrated that local people know what works best in their villages. This is highlighted by the variety and high number of innovative projects being put forward. For most of the schemes, that small amount of financial help from the grant has enabled ideas to get off the ground which otherwise may never have happened. By varying the application criteria, the council has been able to focus in on specific areas of action while the successful applicants have shown they have the capacity and resources to deliver these projects and make a positive difference in their own community.


Siobhan Mellon, Climate and Environment Development Officer 

Links to relevant documents