Solar power, new heating and more – improvements for our centenary

2022 marked the centenary of the foundation of Pant Memorial Institute, the charity that runs Pant Memorial Hall. This page tells you all about the improvements made to the hall in our centenary year.

Project Summary

The committee began planning this project in 2021. Proposals for solar generation had been put forward before, but had never been financially feasible from hall reserves. New grant opportunities and the prospect of rocketing energy costs meant that the committee revisited the idea, and with two successful grant applications we were able to go ahead.

After several quotes, lots of thinking, six sub-committee meetings (on zoom) and a a few bumps in the road – we did it!

As always, the work was managed entirely by the volunteer trustees in their own time. We start our second century with a lower carbon footprint and a smarter and warmer hall . We are delighted with the results.

Here’s what we have achieved:

  • 24 solar panels on the roof
  • installation of a 13.5kw ‘powerwall’, charging from the panels. This means that the hall can be totally solar powered even after dark. Over summer 2022 only 15% of our energy came from the grid. As the heaters go into use this has changed to around 50% – the battery is charged during the day and so helps to warm and light our evening hirers. Excess energy is exported to the grid and we are paid for it.
  • New hot water system; supplied from one tank replacing the old over-sink heaters. That means that hot water now comes out of the taps! The tank also acts as an extra energy store. Our boiling water device for hot drinks remains.
  • new hi-tech panel heaters to replace the rather scruffy old ones; they are all controlled individually and we have arranged ‘presets’ for our regular evening hirers. We also now have reliable frost protection throughout the building.
  • Bar area revamp: total transformation! We now have a rearranged and repainted bar and utility area, with cheery coloured walls, (all painting done by volunteers) smart new lighting, a modern wooden worktop and a beautiful new vinyl floor. Instead of the scruffy old store room and too-small cleaning cupboard, we now have a ‘plant room’ for the solar electronics, battery and hot water tank. This has a keycode lock to protect the equipment and give us secure storage. There is a new cleaning equipment cupboard fitted with shelves and hooks. There is now a new glass-wash sink with draining board, and a low level cleaner sink for cleaning mops and emptying buckets. The final touch is the new roller shutter for the hatch between the bar and the main room.
  • We have fitted two cycle racks to the back of the hall. They are under one of the outside lights so easy to use at any time.
  • The sagging paving by the phone box has been relaid. No more puddles in wet weather and no more risk of tripping up!
  • the play area gate and fence has been repaired and repainted. This secures the soft play surface for the use of our younger guests (and anyone else) under supervision. The gate opens inwards – middle section provides pedestrian/wheelchair/pushchair access, and the right side also opens if anything bigger needs to come through. The gates are firmly secured top and bottom from the outside.
  • outside socket (with an inside timer) for Christmas lights or any other celebrations. Plus two sets of lights which dance through a cheery timed sequence.

Project photo gallery

Behind the Scenes – an insight into the process

At the start of the project, here’s what was planned:

  • solar panels to generate electricity, with associated battery storage
  • modern heating AND improved water heating system
  • improved insulation

We also took the opportunity to refurbish the old (and frankly rather scruffy) bar area and do some other smaller improvements.

As it turned out, the insulation was not possible within the available scope and funding. It proved to be a far bigger job than was initially thought, involving removing the ceiling and possibly installing new rafters and a new ceiling shape. We will keep this in mind for the future. We are grateful to our funders who allowed us to change scope to ensure that we were able to complete the two main elements of the work.

Solar energy generation and batteries

The problem: the hall is all-electric due to our location, and the electricity bill is by far our largest expense. We had greatly reduced the costs for lighting with our 2020 project, but the cost of heating has always far outweighed this. Past committees have investigated alternative solutions such as an oil boiler or heat pumps, but neither were feasible.

Solar panels and have greatly improved in the last few years, and prices have come down somewhat. The problem has always been that the hall is mainly used in the evening, when solar panels obviously don’t work. The solution is battery storage, which has finally become ‘mainstream’ and controllable. There are also now systems to sell excess energy back to the grid as a further income stream.

The solutions: while the panels are outside on the roof, we needed space for an inverter and the associated controls, plus the battery. This gave us the opportunity to carry out the long-planned refurbishment to the bar area at the back of the hall. This was badly laid out with unsuitable storage, and also very scruffy.

We decided to create a ‘plant room’ in this area to make best use of the space. We also took the opportunity to create a more usable cleaning cupboard and add a glass wash sink plus a mop sink for the cleaner and hirers to use. The plant room is locked off with a combination while everywhere else is accessible to all. The bar area also gained a new countertop, a roller shutter, a smart new floor (needed as the walls had moved) and a fabulous new decorative scheme and lights. Thanks to our hard working paintbrush wielding volunteers! This previously tatty part of the hall is totally transformed and a credit to all involved.

Improved Heating and hot water

The problems: The panel heaters in the hall were installed at the 1981 rebuild. They all worked, and all electric heaters have the same 100% efficiency. However the controls were very basic, which means that we are using more electricity than we should for heating. As a lesser (but still notable) issue, the heaters were scruffy and rather a dirt magnet. The heaters in the main room and kitchen had protective guards due to their surface temperature, which makes cleaning a major exercise. All the guards were different and were difficult to fit and remove.

Heating costs have been included in the hall hire fee since late 2017 – we felt it was time to move on from coin meters. The system had a one hour timer pushbutton which means that the heating cannot be left on by mistake. A separate pushbutton controlled the heating for the side room and toilets. It was all more complex and less efficient than it could be.

Hot water came from ‘mini showers’ positioned over each sink in the toilets, bar area and kitchen. They were a little fiddly to use, and if they went wrong they failed at full blast of water. They did the job, but we wanted to do better.

The solutions: modern electric heaters correctly sized and positioned for the use of the hall, to create an even temperature throughout. That is not only more comfortable, but uses less energy. Each heater is individually controlled with its own thermostat. We can now set them to ‘preheat’ the hall for our regular users, and all users can turn on heaters as they require (and turn them off again once they are warm enough). The controls are set so that heaters cannot be accidentally left on, but they also provide frost protection throughout the building.

Hot water is now provided from a cylinder with an immersion heater. This will also store some solar energy as the water will heat during the day. Don’t worry – we won’t run out as the grid is there if needed.

Thank you to our funders

This project would have been impossible without two generous grant awards. A huge thank you to our funders.

Postcode Local Trust is a grant-giving charity funded entirely by the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. Pant Memorial Institute received a grant of £20,000 for the solar panels, batteries, and associated works.

The new heating and insulation for Pant Memorial Hall has been made possible by an award of £9,905 from the National Lottery Community Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players. #NationalLottery

Thank you also to Princes LHS Ellesmere who provided the Christmas lights and associated installation.