skip to content



Sustainability is really important to us, we’ve looked at lots of different options and it is a real challenge, but we’ve found that the biggest thing we can influence is behaviour.

Churchill College have been participating in the University’s Green Impact scheme since year one and have gone on to win Platinum awards for their sustainability initiatives. This year they’re aiming for Excellence with a project focusing on drastically reducing single-use plastic consumption across the College. Dr Alison Ming, a Fellow at Churchill who cares deeply about the environment, will be taking the lead on the plastics reduction initiative.

As part of the movement, Edie Turner, the JCR Green Officer at Churchill, has initiated an ecobrick project which will use non-recyclable litter that would otherwise be going to landfill to construct raised vegetable beds. Ecobricks are essentially a plastic bottle, stuffed full of used plastics that can’t be recycled or that won’t break down. Once the litter has been cleaned and is packed in tightly, the bottle becomes a robust building material which can be used to construct anything from toilet blocks to children’s playgrounds. The ecobricks will not only help reduce the amount of waste going to landfill at Churchill, it is hoped that with the addition of the vegetable beds, produce from the student-run vegetable garden will also make its way more consistently into the College kitchens.

In a listed building, with poor local grid infrastructure, sustainability initiatives can be challenging at Churchill but Shelley Surtees, Domestic Bursar and Chair of the Sustainability Committee, says: “Sustainability is really important to us, we’ve looked at lots of different options and it is a real challenge, but we’ve found that the biggest thing we can influence is behaviour.” Plastic use and waste is an area where individuals can make a real difference, especially when given an enabling environment. To raise awareness of the plastics reduction initiative, encourage engagement and build dialogue, the team at Churchill held a unique launch event for staff and students.

The ‘Let’s Ditch Plastics’ event started with a litter pick in the almost-permanent November dusk last weekend. Cups of coffee and vegan cookies were on hand and 2.4kg of litter was collected in total. When I met with Shelley to hear about her highlights from the event she said that seeing the Master and her husband helping with the litter pick (see picture, right), “getting their hands dirty and leading from the front spoke volumes not only about the importance of these sustainability projects, but about what it means to be Churchillian.” Shelley also said that having students who perhaps wouldn’t typically engage with projects like these stop by the litter pick to ask what they were up to (and to sample the cookies…) was a huge positive for the event and a personal highlight. In Shelley’s own words, “it was really valuable to have conversations with highly intelligent students who have something substantial to contribute [to these projects] but that we might not normally be reaching.”

The litter pick was followed by a plant-based formal, with students who participated in the litter pick receiving 50% off their ticket. If your College is yet to actively encourage plant-based diets Shelley would be happy to share ideas with you as Churchill hosts an annual plant-based dinner for students and a weekly meat-free menu at Tuesday formals. Some quick wins which have been successful at Churchill are: having opt in for meat (rather than opt in for veggie) formals; replacing all butter with vegan alternatives such as Flora; and arranging hot plates so the vegan and vegetarian dishes appear before the fish and meat options. Whilst Shelley acknowledges that meat consumption at Churchill is still quite high, a declining amount of ruminant meat is served on the hot plate and the reordering of dishes has had a noticeable impact.

During my conversation with Shelley we keep coming back to the collective enthusiasm from students, College officers, heads of departments, staff and Fellows at Churchill. Shelley’s invite to the Chaplain and his wife to see if they would like to dine with the students at the plant-based formal was accepted within minutes, four Fellows are sitting on the Sustainability Committee this year and exceptionally dedicated Green Officers are all signs of a collective will and expectation for sustainability improvements to be made at Churchill. As we chat about the importance of the student body in this movement, Shelley stresses that proactive, pragmatic students and Green Officers, like Edie and Eldre Oldewage, are “absolutely key” in making sure environmental progress is made.

Churchill have been working hard to reduce single-use plastic already – snacks at the College bar are sold by weight in brown paper bags and disposable cups are no longer provided at water dispensers around the College. At this year’s children’s pantomime, children will be gifted reusable bottles instead of single-use plastic juice bottles. Dr Alison Ming is in the process of identifying all the areas where Churchill are making improvements and discussions are well underway. The Housekeeping department are speaking to suppliers about not having linen delivered in plastic wrapping and the College has recently sourced toiletries for use in their commercial business which come in biodegradable bottles. Whilst these conversations are ongoing, Shelley says that “without purchasers asking these kind of questions, change isn’t going to happen.”

If you missed the event but would like to be involved in the next one in Spring, or if you would like to hear more about any of the projects at Churchill then please contact us to be put in touch with Shelley.

Read more about reducing waste: