Sheffield community-run leisure centre invests in biomass to heat pool

A South Yorkshire community-run leisure centre is investing in its long-term future by using a biomass boiler to heat the water in its swimming pool.

Stocksbridge Leisure Centre is looking forward to a busy summer with its 12.5m-long swimming pool and showers heated by a 50kw boiler which burns wood pellets from sustainable sources.

Run by the 4SLC trust, the leisure centre had its boiler installed by renewable energy experts Regional Energy six months ago. The pool has been in public use since then and was recently opened officially by Mayor of Stocksbridge, Jack Clarkson.

The not-for-profit trust has now launched a fundraising campaign to restore and reopen its second larger swimming pool – with plans to install a second biomass boiler to heat that too.

4SLC invested in biomass through the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, which means it will get quarterly reward payments for the next 20 years – creating a valued source of income for the community venture.

Trevor Fowler, of the 4SLC Trust, said: “Our biomass boiler has been an excellent investment as it has enabled us to heat our small pool cheaply and effectively plus, through the Government’s incentive scheme, we expect to get back what we paid for it within three years, then after that our continued payments will be welcome income stream for us.

“We are a voluntary-run facility and have to think long and hard about how we spend our money for the long term viability of our leisure centre.

“Our next aim is to restore the larger pool for public use and we will certainly talk to Regional Energy about the biomass heating option for that too.”

Stocksbridge Leisure Centre has been run by the 4SLC voluntary trust on a 25 year long lease since September 2013 when the local authority withdrew support for the community facility.

Regional Energy, based in nearby Penistone, was called in to provide a cost-effective heating solution for the family pool using cash raised through fundraising and donations.

The pool, heated to 30 degrees, is now used for children’s lessons, parent and baby and over 50s swimming sessions, beginners’ scuba, aquafit, zorbing and kids’ parties.

Regional Energy business development director Gary Hague said: “It has been great to be part of Stocksbridge Leisure Centre’s strategy to get their community-run asset onto a viable long-term footing.

“Biomass heating is becoming an increasingly important option for people running all sorts of public buildings faced with the rising costs of fossil fuels and the growing need to develop sustainable alternatives.

“And biomass is a particularly wise option now because, as well as providing a reliable long-term heating solution, people can also earn money through a generous government incentive scheme to encourage people to develop green technologies.

“We forecast the Stocksbridge Leisure Centre’s biomass boiler will save them nearly £250,000 in comparison to mains gas over the next 20 years.”

Regional Energy designs, installs and maintains biomass systems for hotels, country estates, farms, community centres, schools, private homes and rural businesses across the UK.

The company was set up largely in response to the introduction of the RHI scheme in 2013. This UK initiative – a world first – is similar to other feed-in tariff schemes for electricity generation, but rewards people for generating their own heat.

The Government introduced the RHI to boost the renewable energy market and help the UK meet its CO2 reduction targets set out in the 2005 Kyoto treaty.

Gary said: “The RHI means green energy can help businesses like Stocksbridge Leisure Centre generate profits as well as save money on heating.”

Stocksbridge Leisure Centre also offers sports hall and gym facilities. The trust held a public meeting recently to kickstart its campaign to raise funds to restore its second pool to public use.

Biomass generates heat by burning organic materials such as wood chips or pellets from sustainable sources.

Trevor Fowler of Stocksbridge Leisure Centre with Gary Hague of Regional Energy
Trevor Fowler of Stocksbridge Leisure Centre with Gary Hague of Regional Energy

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