Tom Greeves: a celebration

In 2015, Greening the North commissioned Dr John Newson to write a pamphlet – Solar Pioneers of Bournville – about one aspect of the work of the late Tom Greeves (Cotteridge Meeting, CEQ): his pioneering role in the use of solar energy.

tom greevesTom was an engineer at Cadbury’s in Bournville and became a trustee of the Bournville Village Trust (BVT), serving for 32 years, from 1971 to 2003 and acting as vice-chair for 14 years.

He had been inspired by reading The Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome, which reported that continued economic growth using existing technology was not sustainable and could threaten everyone’s future survival.

It led him to study electronic engineering in order to develop the clean and efficient technologies that were going to replace existing fuels. Having expanded his technical knowledge, he made a long term commitment to solar energy in the Bournville area of Birmingham, aptly described by Dr Newson as ‘long-running experiment of hope’.

Tom Greeves worked with Professor Leslie Jesch of Birmingham University to implement designs for houses that were solar heated by very large south-facing windows and conservatories. Together with Dr. Lubo Jankovic and the Solar Energy Lab at Birmingham University, they demonstrated that ordinary houses in the British climate with solar energy could show a major reduction in the fuel required to heat them.

A new low energy housing development by the BVT at Lower Shenley, was the last housing project with which Tom Greeves was involved before he retired from the Trust. The Bournville solar principles were extended to 167 homes, using input from local eco-architect John Christophers of Associated Architects, who designed the houses with glazed sun spaces and solar water heating.

solar pioneers cover bestThe late Adrian Cadbury described the draft paper as an admirable account of Tom’s practical championship, backed by his technical knowledge, of solar power:

”He understood the impact of climate change and through the Northfield Ecocentre demonstrated how at community level we could all play our part in adapting our lives to its impact. At Bournville he made a great contribution to the introduction of new methods through his work in the Research & Development Department.

“The draft is a remarkably consistent record of advances in the application of technology for community benefit, all of it driven by Tom for the public good. It is an inspiring record which, through Tom’s modesty, would not have been appreciated without this background research”

Retirement did not mean inactivity however. Tom made a valuable contribution to setting up Northfield Eco-centre and improving the energy efficiency of Cotteridge Meeting House which became an exemplar of a low carbon community building, having cut energy use by over 90%.

ceq group 1

He regularly attended CEQ’s Low Carbon Commitment Forum (above, far left) though his mobility was visibly declining. These meetings were and are often held at the Priory Rooms, in the enterprising and imaginative ‘environmentally friendly new build of Bull Street Meeting’ – the words of his daughter Suzanne – who described him as ‘one of the instigators of using alternative technology in these buildings’. She briefly referred to his ‘ironing out’ of various problems, collaborating with Dragan Obrenovic, Conference Centre Premises Manager, ‘who had to make it work on a day to day basis’.

A final comprehensive tribute from Adrian Cadbury: “Tom was a real pioneer, wonderfully modest and unassuming. His inspiration and example will be greatly missed”.

Read the illustrated pamphlet here:


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