Balsall Heath Church Centre

More Images >

Organisation

Balsall Heath Church Centre is an ecumenical partnership between St Pauls’ Church of England and Balsall Heath United Reformed Church. It provides meeting space for a variety of community groups and also a day care centre for local elderly people.

The project partners for this project are; Balsall Heath Is Our Planet, Church Urban Fund, Jericho Foundation, a local social enterprise, Alumasc Exterior Building Products, Close Building Services, Advanced Green Technologies, AXUN Solar Europe and Thomas Vale Construction.

Summary

The Church centre benefitted by generous donations and discounted prices from a number of companies, who wished to have a first demonstration of this solar system, which is the first of its kind in the UK. Called Flexlight; the photovoltaic laminate is flexible, lightweight and is stuck directly to the roof. The thin film amorphous technology will work even at low light levels. US based Advanced Green Technologies (AGT) has supplied them at much reduced cost, as has AXUN the supplier of the inverters.

The solar layer is bonded onto a roof membrane (Firestone Rubbergard EPDM) which has been generously donated by Alumasc Exterior Building Products. Installation has been completed by Close Building Services, working with Jericho Construction, which has trained unemployed local people to install this kind of roof. Thomas Vale Construction donated towards the cost of the insulation board (120 mm), to reduce heat loss from the building.

New roof lights admit more natural light to the interior of the building.

The payments from the ‘feed in tariff’ for clean energy generation will earn an income for 25 years, which will help to meet the running costs of the building and its socail benefit to groups who meet there.

Aims

  • To be a beacon of environmental sustainability for the area
  • To generate and export low carbon solar electricity to the area
  • To reduce energy costs and earn a flow of income
  • To make the services offered to the community more sustainable
  • To assist with skills and employment in the area

The challenges

The challenges the organisation faced included;

  • To make this innovative technology available at a price that the church centre could meet, as outside capital funding was not identified
  • To hold together the rather complex partnership of organisations involved
  • To deliver the project in a tight timescale and be a first with flexible PV on a church.

The solutions

Funding from the Church Urban Fund paid local social enterprise Jericho Foundation to be the project consultants and managers. They obtained offers of help from the companies supplying the materials, technology and installation. Jericho staff and trainees were trained to install the roof, and assisted Close Building Services who made no charge to the church.

The total cost was reduced to some 40% of full cost. This means that the church centre was able to meet the cost to them. A roof with solar generation has been installed at a similar cost to a new roof only.

The roof now generates up to 8kw peak of electricity in daylight hours. This will meet the needs of the building and also export clean power to the area. Payments will help offset running costs of the building and make the day centre facility more financially sustainable.

Balsall Heath Is our Planet, a local environmental initiative has helped to publicise the project and supported an Open Day. A presentation was given to Birmingham City Council staff and contractors, and also to the Ecobuild exhibition 2011.

The results

The results of this project include;

  • Demonstration of flexible amorphous PV technology for roofs in UK
  • Reduced electricity consumption for lighting
  • Reduced gas consumption for heating
  • Reduced carbon footprint of the building and of the neighbourhood
  • Reduced running costs, hence financial sustainability of services to the local community
  • Demonstration of solar PV, encouraging other community and faith buildings
  • Social enterprise had trained and experience in installing such roofs
  • Website of solar electric output

Learning points

  • A broad partnership between the faith and community sector and the private sector companies achieved far more than could have been done otherwise
  • But the partnership was complex and time consuming to coordinate and deliver
  • Relationships are however crucial to success
  • There are still further energy and water saving measures that can be beneficially installed on the building
  • Rising fuel prices mean that faith and community organisations have to invest in making their buildings more energy efficient, if they hope to continue financially to deliver social benefits to local people. The value of savings will increase in a world of rising energy costs.

SWM comment

We really like this unusual example of partnership working. Through the high volume of partners involved, there were many challenges but the Church centre has now become a leading example for environmental sustainability.

Contact information

Visit the Balsall Heath Is Our Planet website to find out more or contact Rev Catherine Grylls, Balsall Heath Church Centre, 100 Mary Street, Balsall Heath Birmingham B12 9JU 0121 4550336.