There's nothing unusual looking about Gamblesby Village
Hall, an old Victorian schoolhouse in the fell-foot village
of Gamblesby, a few miles east of Penrith.
From the outside it doesn't look
like much has changed here in the hundred and fifty years
since the school was built, even the warm red sandstone
looks in pretty good shape for its' age. But things here
are not what they seem; this is no grimy Victorian schoolhouse
but a clean, green 21st century eco village hall, a transformation
led by the local community following a nasty accident which
led to the hall's closure.
"The village hall had been deteriorating
over many years," explained Bill Mitchell, secretary of
the hall committee. "It got to the stage where somebody
leant back on a chair and went through the rotten floor.
Then we knew we had to close and renovate. It was run-down,
cold draughty and damp; the only heating was four electric
heaters that burnt the top of your head and left your feet
cold," he explained as he invited us inside.
Family on a bike arrives at Gamblesby
Having seen a pub, shop and church
close, the prospect of losing another community amenity
ensured there was wide ranging community support for a hall
refurbishment project. So, with the community behind them
the committee developed plans for a project which used innovative
renewable energy and insulation technology to attract grant
funding, reduce the building's carbon footprint and ensure
low running costs. It all proved very fashionable, practical
and popular in a small village with limited funds, no gas
main and ever reducing community amenities.
"Now we use a small ground source
heat pump to run an underfloor heating system in the hall,"
explained Bill. Standing in the car park in the cold spring
air, it was hard to believe that water pumped through large
coils buried under the ground beneath our feet could pick
up enough heat from the ground to warm a pancake let alone
a village hall. But by a miracle of physics and technology
that's just what a Ground Source Heat Pump does.
Dig down a few metres almost anywhere
in the UK and the average soil temperature in the UK is
between 8 and 13ēC year round; enough to warm up cold water
slowly circulating in underground pipes by a few degrees.
That's your ground source. If you couple that with a heat
pump, a kind of fridge in reverse, then you can take this
low grade heat and with a bit of technological trickery
concentrate it to heat water up to 50ēC and feed your underfloor
heating system, radiators or hot taps. This approach is
cleaner, greener and involves lower running costs than heating
with gas, oil or electricity.
And as if to prove the magic while
it was no more the 5ēC outside, once inside the hall we
were a positively comfortable 18ēC. Bill pointed to the
old electric heaters still mounted high above our heads.
"We kept those for back-up," he explained, "but we've not
used them.We can't quite believe how good the system is.
The first time we turned it on and watched the temperature
rise to over 40 degrees it was like watching a miracle."
Of course it's not energy for free;
the heat pump needs electricity to do its' business, and
there's the capital costs of installation to factor in,
but all in all the Gamblesby hall committee reckon the running
costs of ground source are about one quarter of those for
their old electric system, and with lower carbon emissions,
they're feeling good about saving money and the planet.
But the people of Gamblesby are
not content to stop there. The goal of the second phase
of their project is real magic; to try and reduce the running
costs and carbon emissions of the hall further by installing
a small wind turbine, using wind generated electricity to
pre-heat water, run the heat pump and possibly even generate
a small income by selling any excess power to the grid.
Bill Mitchell, Secretary of Hall
The whole project has had quite
an impact on the community and the benefits go beyond cost
savings and carbon reductions. The hall committee brought
together long term residents and newcomers, farmers, tradesmen,
engineers and other skilled professionals, who all put their
skills to work for their community. "We learnt a lot together,
really worked together, doing PR, fundraising, negotiating
and hard labour," explained Bill, "and some in the village
are now experts in heat pumps too." And alongside their
commitment to developing their know-how and using green
technologies, the committee made a commitment to go local,
sourcing materials locally and placing contracts with local
businesses and tradespeople. "The whole community was incredibly
supportive and keen to lend a hand," explained Bill, "and
we had a lot of volunteers who wanted to help too. So we
used the skills, tools and heavy equipment available in
the village and on the farms and just got on with it ourselves.
It all helped keep costs down, made the whole project viable,
built a great community spirit and got people thinking about
energy efficiency and using renewables at home."
Bill showed us a video of the locals
at work, shot and edited by a local camerman after a tap
on the shoulder by the committee. As we sat and watched
villagers in hard hats ripping out the old floorboards,
hacking away at old plaster, trundling wheelbarrows, laying
hardcore, digging trenches, laying floorboards, plastering,
painting and hanging curtains, it was obvious that the Gamblesby
project was no ordinary refurbishment project and the resulting
hall was no ordinary village hall.
Once the video finished, Bill showed
us around the hall, pointing out the fresh yellow paintwork,
low energy lighting, polished wooden floors and bright red
drapes. As we walked and talked it struck me how ordinary
it all looked, how there was nothing here that looked that
special apart from the pride that Bill evidently had in
the whole project. He opened up a small wooden wallbox and
showed us the rather ordinary looking set of pipes, valves
and dials used to feed the underfloor heating. He handed
us a few tufts of the Herdwick sheeps wool used to insulate
the building and finally took us outside to a little shed
where he showed us an unprepossessing box about the size
of a small fridge. "And that's the magic, the heat pump,"
he explained. And even that wasn't all that impressive to
The hall's smart but ordinary
appearance conceals its' magic
I came to Gamblesby to see renewables
at work, to see first-hand the magic of a Ground Source
Heat Pump but what I found was a project that was much more
than that, that not only used renewables and reduced emissions
but also enhanced community skills and spirit, created an
amenity that villagers feel a great sense of pride in and
ownership of and encouraged people to think about the impact
of their own energy consumption. Now that's the kind of
eco-magic we could do with a lot more of.