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Penkside switched on to energy issues

Saving energy, tackling climate change and promoting green transport are just three of the issues that have been raised in 2011 and 2012 by the Penkside Project. This scheme aims to deliver improvements to the Penkside council ward - comprising the Silkmore and Rickerscote areas of Stafford - by involving the community at a grass roots level and drawing on help and advice from other agencies. And in just a few months, much has been achieved!

Silkmore school and St Peter's church go for solar power

Silkmore panelsSolar panels on the roof of Silkmore Primary school

Two major public buildings in the area now benefit from the power of the sun, by harnessing it to generate electricity and income. Pupils and staff at Silkmore Community Primary School can smile on sunny days, knowing that their 24 solar panels, installed over the Christmas holidays at the end of 2011, are helping to boost school funds. The panels were funded largely by a grant from Alstom to the tune of £17,000, secured for the Penkside project by officers at Stafford Borough Council.

The installation work was carried out by MEB Total as part of the Stafford Area Community Solar discount scheme, after lengthy planning and prepartion work. Sue Blake of Silkmore School said that once the go-ahead had been given the whole process went through smoothly. It is estimated that the panels, rated at 6 kilowatts peak, will earn the school upwards of £1000 per year, giving a boost to the school budget.

Both east and west main roofs of St Peter's church, Rickerscote, now have arrays of 14 solar panels.

And since the end of July, 2012, churchgoers at St Peter's have reaped similar benefits from the scheme, following the installation of 28 panels on the main church roof. The work was funded by Stafford Borough Council, and overseen by Father Graham Bott, who commented: 'The support of the Borough Council and all involved was very much appreciated; without this support we would not have been able to proceed.'

Getting the kids on board: work in schools

A major theme has been to engage with youngsters of the area in raising issues such as climate change, Big Wheel Theatre Co.carbon emissions, and greener lifestyles. Stoke-based charity Beat the Cold adapted a Keele University workshop and staged it for pupils of Silkmore Primary. They played environmental snakes and ladders, learned about how electricity is generated, and made draught snakes ('sausage dogs').

Big Wheel Theatre goes down a storm while promoting sustainable travel to pupils at St Leonard's School, Stafford

Silkmore Primary saddles up!

To sustain the green travel theme, funding has been provided to install a new cycle shelter for pupils at Silkmore Primary. This was completed ready for the start of the new school year in September. A pool of children's bikes and cycle helmets have also been provided, to encourage youngsters to cycle safely and have fun.

cycle shelterSilkmore Primary was also one of four schoools in the area that played host to the Big Wheel Theatre Company from London. They put on a fun-packed workshop called 'Go, Go, Go!', about sustainable travel options. This highlighted the benefits of walking, cycling and public transport in favour of the car. Performances also took place at Flash Ley Primary, Burton Manor Primary and St Leonard's Primary. In tandem with the workshops, the schools received a visit from Dr Bike from Back2Bikes in Stafford, who gave tips on cycle maintenance to the pupils.

The new cycle shelter at Silkmore Primary. Left to right: Mackenzie Parsons, Leo Wright, Karen Davies (Stafford Borough Council) and Julie Mowbray (Headteacher)

Home energy advice

A key element in the project has been advising householders on how to cut their energy bills by making changes to their homes or behaviour, such as topping up loft insulation or resetting heating programmers. Beat the Cold conducted 58 home energy visits during the spring of 2011, not only giving energy efficiency advice, but also informing occupants about extra support that they might be eligible for, such as lower-rate social energy tariffs or subsidized insulation. This supplements the 47 homes visited in spring 2010.


Often, simple things can make big differences to electric or gas bills, or improve home comfort. These are some of the outcomes following the home visits by Beat the Cold advisers to Penkside residents:

  • 30 homes joined their energy company's Priority Service Register for a range of extra services;
  • 10 homes switched to a social tariff - average saving of £180 per household
  • 8 homes had their hotwater tank thermostat reset;
  • 3 homes had storage heaters reset for optimum operation;
  • 8 homes had heating and hotwater programmers reset;
  • 6 homes were recommended to top up loft insulation.

An energy monitor was provided for 49 households, enabling them to better monitor and control electricity consumption. Information about a range of other services and agencies was also provided, emphasizing the importance of an all-round approach.

Beat the Cold also provided an analysis and summary of each household's carbon footprint. The average was 7.68 tonnes per household per annum, or 5.13 tonnes per individual occupant. Interestingly, in a follow-up questionnaire, 21 of the 25 respondents (84%) said that saving carbon emissions was "very important" or "fairly important".

There was general approval for the service from Beat the Cold. One typical comment was "More people should have this service." To read about two case studies from Penkside, see Home energy visits offer a helping hand.

Community energy audits

Improvements have been made to the energy efficiency of two well-known local buildings. St Peter's Church and Jock's Sandwich Bar both underwent audits by a professional energy assessor (Sustainable Support Partners). Consequently, St Peter's benefitted by having timer controls fitted for the gas heaters in the main church, and also a contribution was made towards insulation of the Community Centre roof during its refurbishment. Over at Jock's in Sidney Avenue the old inefficient spotlights and fluorescent tubes were replaced with more modern low-energy versions. In both cases, users of the building will see reduced bills and more comfortable surroundings.

An energy audit was also done at the local high school, Stafford Manor High School (formerly Stafford Sports College). This identified various ways to improve energy efficiency of the building and reduce bills. As a result, several improvements have been made. See Stafford Manor High School trims energy use.