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Eco-renovation transforms Devon village hall

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 30 June 2010 at 9:02 am

With thick insulation, ground source heat pumps feeding underfloor heating, and solar panels on the roof to power the heat pump, Branscombe village hall in East Devon must be one of the most energy efficient in the country.

However, managing an ambitious project like this wasn't an easy task. It took six years and lot of time, energy and determination on the part of the village hall committee, as I found out when I visited recently with the Sid Valley Energy Action Group.

Three of the committee showed us around, and told the story. The 5.8kWp solar PV panels and two ground source heat pumps started generating in February this year. But it took 6 years to achieve. “There were lots of disappointments and setbacks and going through hoops.” said chairman, David Crowe. “At times it was soul destroying, and we were fundraising until people were thoroughly fed up.”

The whole renovation project including a new slate roof, and a well equipped catering kitchen, cost £250,000, with the renewable energy element coming in at £98,000. This is a huge sum for a village that has only 555 people on the electoral roll to raise.

However, the result is a warm and comfortable village hall with a much lower carbon footprint and hopefully, lower energy bills. Although, like many community recipients of Low Carbon Building Programme phase 2 grants, the village hall committee is in a state of uncertainty about how much it will benefit from the feed-in tariff. To qualify for the full rate it must pay back the £16,000 LCBP grant. But it’s not clear what, if any, payment it will receive for exported electricity if it doesn’t pay the grant back (this is a question I’m chasing DECC for an answer on, and will be the subject of a future blog).

A community project like this is not something to be taken lightly. David Crowe pointed out that you need volunteers with a certain calibre and expertise to drive it through. (And, I think unusual determination and resilience). The committee was managing a project with around 20 sub contractors. “The grant givers specified which companies we should use. None were local, and they all subcontracted. One sub contractor broke £4,000 worth of the new slates as he installed the PV panels.”

In addition, the weather caused difficulty for the sub contractor responsible for digging the trenches for the kilometre of pipework for the heat pumps. Because the project had to be finished by a certain time to claim the grant, the digging had to be done in winter. As a result the village is still struggling with reinstating the land. A lot of flints were disturbed in the process, and you don’t want flints lying around on your village football / cricket pitch!

While it sounds like hard work, the end result is truly impressive, and hopefully an example that others will follow.

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