Green Awards - Green Communities

Abbeyleix Tidy Towns:

Submission for Green Communities Award 2013

The Green Award aim to celebrate excellence in sustainability and to encourage green best practice among Ireland's organisations and individuals.

In 2013 Abbeyleix Tidy Towns made the shortlist for The Green Community Award along with the following:

  • Abbeyleix Tidy Towns
  • CELT Centre
  • Cloughjordan
  • Hike It Bike It Like It, Drimnagh
  • Silver Hill Foods
  • WEEE Ireland

We attended the awards in Dublin and lost out to Cloughjordan who were the overall winners in this section.

Having long been known as an important heritage town, Abbeyleix is fast becoming recognised for its green credentials. We are committed to the principles of sustainable development and since 2010 our activity in this area has become more structured and formalised with the formation of the Abbeyleix Business & Community Forum (ABC) This new umbrella structure has provided the ideal vehicle to enable the Tidy Towns committee and other existing groups to harness the energy and enthusiasm which coincided with the opening of the motorway and the subsequent diversion of vehicles. The town has been reclaimed by the community from the choking traffic and this has given rise to one new initiative after another. The past year in particular has been a very successful one for us. The following is a brief description of our green community along with some detail on our overall approach to sustainability plus a list of our key achievements over the past year.

Click on "Strategic Planning" link above to open

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Click on "Community Gardens" link above to open

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Click on "Trees and WIldlife" link above to open

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Click on "Community Groups" link above to open

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Click on "Our Communications" link above to open

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Click on "Sustainability Initiatives" link above to open

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Click on "Walking/Cycling" link above to open

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Communication of Green activities

The local tidy towns group has been the vehicle of much of our activity in this area and we have embraced the move from the traditional focus of the competition on “tidiness and neatness” to a wider ethos of sustainability. Our philosophy is to focus on non showy project which yield long term gains e.g. we favour spending our scare resources on native tree/ shrub planting over transient displays of annual flowers.

The seed for many of our sustainable initiatives was sown in 2011 when we secured funding to deliver a Community Sustainability Course based on the Powerdown model for interested members of our community. A core group of 15 completed the course and ideas generated here spawned recently completed projects including the community garden, the allotment gardens and the local food add on to our festivals .

Our Sustainable Communities Plan was launched in December 2012 following a 12 month lead in. Abbeyleix was very fortunate to be selected as a national pilot to set a model for enhanced public participation in plan making at a local scale. We learned a lot from this process and the facilitated open sessions with the community helped to consolidate and refine a lot of ideas that were already germinating.

We believe strongly in engaging with children and work closely with both of our schools in the town which are both Green School award recipients. We avail of all of the “off the shelf” opportunities to work with the schools including Bike Week, Heritage Week, Tree Week etc and we have also included the schools in our own projects including the Wonderbag Project (more on this later) and of course Abbeyleix Bog.

We have also utilised our community festivals to communicate environmental best practice to a wide cross section of our community. Over the past two years the remit of Abbeyfest (our arts festival) as been extended to include a significant “buy local” and food sustainability sub theme. We have also developed the Applefest to celebrate our local apple harvest (1400 kgs of apples - which would otherwise have gone rotten - pressed to produce 560 litres of apple juice) and to promote local food producers.

Adoption of new technology to help deliver objectives

We avail of new technologies where possible and a recent example was the purchase of energy efficient LED Christmas lighting in 2012. The led lights which use 1 watt each compared to 60 watt bulbs on the older light sets provided significant energy savings our bills came down correspondingly.

A more lo-tech example includes the use of innovative sprung nail fixings to attach new tree identification tags to native trees in the town. This is based on a recently developed initiative trialled by Kew gardens in London.

Another lo-tech innovation is our promotion of the Wonderbags project which promoter energy efficient cooking and recycling of local materials.

On the communications side we have embraced the web and social media. Our Facebook site for Abbeyleix Bog in particular is serving as a great tool to allow visitors to the bog to share photos and to get help in identifying species of wildlife which they find.

Plans for the future:

We are at an advanced stage in developing Abbeyleix as a “wi-fi” town. We have persuaded the majority of businesses in town to make their wi-fi available free of charge to visitors. This will promote paperless communications and enable us to develop apps etc. as outlined below.

We have a beta version of a GPS guided smart phone app (based on the everytrail platform) which will be used to guide visitors and school groups around Abbeyleix bog. This is still in testing stage but will be released over the coming months.

We have secured funding to consolidate the various websites which were developed in a somewhat ad hoc fashion by the various individual groups and committees in Abbeyleix. These will all now feed into which will be upgraded to be more interactive with users . This will help to improve our communications, to inform the community of our activities and and will allow more two way interaction.

Delivery of energy/water savings

We undertook a energy audit (based on the ESB Halo Scheme) on one of our small estates (Ashbrook) of 20 houses. The suggested work plan for each house highlighted potential for annual energy savings of up to €607 as well as CO2 savings of 2694kgs per annum. South School NS which has a green flag has installed water hippos to reduce water consumption. This yields an estimated water saving of 133,956 litres of water in a school year.

The Wonderbag project has been promoted to our schools – although we have no tangible figures on energy saving the project has proven a very useful means of illustrating energy efficiency.

We recently applied for and secured funding to invest in energy efficient LED Christmas lighting (overall spend 12,000E). This has reduced our spend on electricity over the Christmas period and is a significant carbon saving.

One community crèche which is accredited under the Eco Cert scheme is working to an energy improvement plan which includes: installation of heating controls; dual flush toilets, low energy lighting etc.

Laois County Council has just (as of February 2013) installed a telemetry system for Abbeyleix which will enable detailed remote monitoring of water usage in Abbeyleix. A new water treatment plan is scheduled to commence construction this year.

The woodchip based heating system (mentioned above) in our award winning library has efficiency benefits over a conventional oil based system (we have been unable to get specific figures for this)

Future Plans

Our long term objective is create a local energy market but we are pursuing the “low hanging fruit” at the present time and pursuing low cost behavioural changes which we feel are necessary before we go on to larger capital projects.

We intend to expand the estate energy audit initiative that we trialled in Ashbrook above. We have identified 4 estates which are made up of more or less identical houses. We will carry out a detailed energy audit on one house on each estate and will then circulate the resulting report as a case study to the other householders. We have spoken to the Midlands Energy Agency who have agreed to contribute to a water usage information day. The telemetry will allow for detailed monitoring to assess the response to this and any other initiatives.

Recycling Achievements

We are committed to waste minimisation and recycling. The town is served with a door to door recycling collection service (alternate weeks - cardboard, plastics etc.) and also has 2 bottle banks & clothing banks. The door to door service was expanded in 2011 to include a brown bin collection (alternate weeks), for the collection of compostable waste. This additional service, which is available free of charge, marks a significant improvement to the environmental performance of the town.

Although we were unable to get statistics for the door to door collection of recyclables and compost waste, it is apparent that the community participates strongly in the recycling collection service. The number of brown bins which are put out for collection on alternate Fridays is on the increase, but we are aware that there is a job of work to persuade more people to engage in the compost programme. We have have plans for an awareness raising campaign this year.

The stats for our bottle bank for 2012 are as follows:Glass collected - 46561 Kgs; Aluminium Cans Collected - 1804 Kgs; & Steel Cans - 68 Kgs. We also participated in a WEEE Ireland collection and collected 8.278 Tonnes on 9th June 2012.

Our local Community Employment (CE) Scheme runs a scheme to collect newspapers and form them into compressed briquettes which are distributed to our senior citizens.

We have built a community composter (itself built from recycled timber) which has a capacity of 14m3 and which we use to compost grass cutting, weeds and other compostable materials which we take from our green spaces.

We have a good relationship with Ann-Marie Kelly the environment awareness officer with Laois County Council and have participated in various reduce-reuse campaign. We are aware that one of the key ways of influencing behaviour is to engage with children who are also effective in modelling this positive behaviour to their parents. Both schools in Abbeyleix -Scoil Mhuire, and South NS are recipients of the green flag award.

Biodiversity Achievements

We have also been active in conserving and interpreting biodiversity in and around our town and are fortunate to have a number of working ecologists living locally. Following a long and tireless campaign to save our local bog from exploitation for peat moss, Abbeyleix Bog was formally signed over to the Abbeyleix Community on a 50 year lease from Bord na Mona in 2012. We have formed the Abbeyleix bog project Ltd to manage the site and have already commissioned a strategic plan for the bog which means that the 500 acres is now in positive management.

Work completed:

  • Secured funding to erect 4 information boards on the site and also purchased pond dipping nets, id books, bat detectors etc. to showcase the wildlife of the bog to school children and other visitors.
  • In 2012 we held 7 guided walks including events for heritage week and a free summer picnic
  • We started a butterfly transect recording (summer) program with National Biodiversity Centre and undertook weekly transects in summer/ autumn 2012.
  • We worked with Failte Ireland to open a new 8 km walk which passes through the bog
  • We maintain the website plus associated facebook account which is very active. In 2012 we added a childrens’ educational section to our website.
  • As part of our winter work program we are currently working with local Rural Social Scheme programme on rotational scrub clearance plan plus invasive species plan (rhododendron mainly)
  • We commissioned a local ecologist to carry out a habitat study for our whole town and produced a leaflet summarising this work. Please refer to website for full list of activities

Future Plans:

  • The bog project will continue to form a major part of our work in this area and we will work to our new strategic plan.
  • We will plant 14 advanced standard native (hornbeam) trees in the market square this spring as well as two circular groves of native trees which will mirror established groves in the town - as recommended on the sustainable communities plan. Funding is secured and this will be completed by end of spring

Sustainable transport initiatives and associated CO2 savings

The key development in this area is the completion of high quality cycle corridor (2 x 8.5 Km lanes) between Durrow and Abbeyleix. This safe cycle corridor is encouraging a significant number of cyclists back onto the road and is also tying in with the High Nelly bicycle clubs which have established in both Abbeyleix and Durrow. Although much of the cycle traffic is for recreational purposes rather than for direct replacement of car journeys, it is certainly a move in the right direction. Other than the above, we have promoted bicycle use and have staged events for Bike week over the past two years. We held a very successful event in 2011 but had only a modest turnout last year on account of very bad weather.

On the public transport front we have lobbied hard to the County Council and other authorities to retain and enhance bus services.

We also helped to initiate a Feasibility Study for the Abbeyleix to Kilkenny Leisure Trail which (by Mary Tubridy and Associates) which examined the feasibility of developing the old railway line between Abbeyleix and Kilkenny as a walking/ cycle route.

Future Plans:

  • We intend to make Abbeyleix more bicycle friendly and intend to erect bike stands etc. in market square.
  • We are actively looking at extending the South Laois Cycle Route to take in our town.
  • We will complete the study of the old train line to take in the Abbeyleix to Portlaoise
  • We are at an advance stage in planning a network of boardwalks in the bog. Although this will not provide alternative transport opportunity, it will provide an attractive walking amenity directly on the edge to town which can be accessed without the need for a car journey.

Use of Local/ Green Suppliers

We are committed to buying and producing locally where possible and this is one of our central themes - see attached leaflet promoting “Buy Local”. There is a weekly farmers market in market square which sells locally produced breads, eggs, confectionaries, organic pork products, and vegetables. In addition we hold a number of “enhanced markets” in conjunction with our annual festivals and other events (e.g. Abbeyfest, Applefest, Christmas Market etc.)


We have embraced the Grow It Yourself (GIY) movement, which recognises the fact that growing locally, reducing our reliance on imports and transport costs and subsequent CO2 emissions, while at the same time promoting outdoor activities, developing healthier lifestyles and benefiting biodiversity. The local GIY group (200 members) is very strong and has in the last year developed two public gardening spaces. These high profile developments all happened within one year which is a truly remarkable achievement which is helping to promote the produce local/ buy local message.

We have secured funding to carry out a branding exercise on our town and to redevelop our website. We will use this opportunity to package and profile our local businesses to locals and visitors and will encourage “buy local”. We will also run hospitality training to improve the level and consistency of service to customers.

Inclusiveness across the community/ collective decision making in our community

As a community, we are committed to fairness and social inclusion and fair sharing of our resources. Abbeyleix has strong track record of inclusivity and we are well known for our shared use of community facilities. For example, Fr Breen Park is a unique community facility which is home to GAA, soccer, hockey and tennis. It also supports a youth centre, a community crèche, a snooker hall and a badminton hall - there really is something for everyone here!. As well as promoting inclusivity, this model is very efficient in terms of resource usage i.e. the footprint is considerably less that it would be if these facilities were provided individually as they are in many other communities.

We are a relatively small town which lends itself to good informal communication and decision making. On a more formal level, the ABC Umbrella structure - which has representation from all sectors (arts/sports/community/ business / retail/ tourism) - has allowed a more strategic approach to community decision making and to the sustainable development of our town. We have put considerable resources into strategic planning and try to attain a good mix of planning and doing. For example, we have recently commissioned outside experts to facilitate us in developing strategic plans for the Tidy Towns and also Abbeyleix Bog. In the case of the sustainable communities plan the Department of Environment arranged for urban designers to work with us. These exercises provided excellent opportunities to stop and formulate thought through plans for the town

and importantly, also provided a forum for the general public to come on board and contribute their viewpoints.

We are continually working on our communications and have embraced 21st century technology where possible. For example, we have succeeded in making and the associated Facebook Account” (c.a.1750 users in a community with approx. 1800 population) a go to site to find out about what is going on in the town. We find the Facebook medium very effective in communicating with those members of our community who might not otherwise be willing to attend committee meetings etc. Given today’s hectic lifestyles we are encouraging people to get involved in short-term projects rather that necessarily formally joining the committee. As stated previously ,we have successfully applied for funding to develop our website and to consolidate all community sites into one portal which will achieve our aim to truly make it a “one stop shop” for everything in the community. Not forgetting that the web is not for everyone, we also circulate information on our parish newsletter and include occasional supplements within it to keen everyone up to date.

Our other medium of interacting with the community is to set up stall at public event. For example, our community festivals such as Abbeyfest, Applefest have been tailored to profile our work and to promote the sustainability concept to all generations attending these set piece public events.

Abbeyleix is the place where community is not a term that is used lightly, but a way of life for young and old, business and volunteer alike. The level of community participation has gone from strength to strength recently and bit by bit we are developing a more green and sustainable sustainable community