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John Cleveland College Woodheat Co-operative

A collaborative project that used innovative funding methods, saves a Leicestershire college £45,000 per year, and provides a useful model for many other projects.

Key features:

  • collaborative approach
  • co-operative created - owned and operated by its members
  • revenue generated pays interest to members
  • initial funds provided by a range of bodies
  • school gains from sustainable, cheaper heat and having no maintenance and operating costs 
  • co-operative intends to support a local woodfuel economy by purchasing woodfuel from local sources

The College

The John Cleveland College Academy in Hinckley, Leicestershire, is a large school of 1,700 teenage students. The 1900s school site has a variety of buildings of different ages and styles on a large campus.

Since 1999 the school has invested in energy efficiency measures including roof insulation, double-glazing, heating control features and energy efficient lighting. The delivery of renewable heat to the site is part of the next phase of a longer-term strategy for the continued maintenance and upkeep of the campus.

Creating a co-operative

The renewable heat project was is a collaboration between the college and three not-for-profit organisations: Transition Leicester (part of the growing transition towns movement); Green Fox Community Energy Co-operative (a not-for-profit organization formed by local supporters of community energy); and Sharenergy (a community organization helping communities establish their own renewable energy co-operatives).

From this collaboration the John Cleveland College Community Woodheat Co-operative was established. It is owned and operated by its members, with each member having one vote.

Initial development costs were provided by a range of funders including:

  • DECC’s local energy assessment fund
  • Big Society development grant
  • Good Energy grant
  • Naturesave Trust grant
  • Green Fox Development support
  • John Cleveland College development support 

The Project

The original project plan for the heating system comprised a 950 kW and a 450 kw woodchip boiler connected to the existing heat distribution network to supply renewable heat to buildings across the campus.

Innovative funding model

Funding for the installation phase was generated through a community share offer, launched in 2013.  All of those investing in the project become shareholders and members of the co-operative.

Revenue generated from the sale of heat to the school as well as revenue from the Renewable Heat Incentive will pay interest to members and return their original investment over a period of twenty years. 

Heat is sold to the school under a heat supply agreement, which sets out the terms and duration for which the heat is supplied. The agreement also places the responsibility for maintenance and operation of the boiler with the co-operative.

The school has signed up for a twenty-year period, guaranteeing both longevity of the agreement and maximizing the chance for investors to recoup their original investment. 

Current status

The share offer raised £572,000 and as this was somewhat short of the original target the plans were adjusted to fit within this budget. One 800kW boiler has been installed on site and recently commissioned. Fuel is being supplied by a local woodfuel supplier.

Just under 200 people invested in the project which was only the second community heat co-operative in the UK.

It was the first community energy share offer in Leicestershire, but attracted half of its investors from the county.


The school has been able to replace its ageing heating system.

It also gains from cheaper heat - estimated at £45,00 per year - by replacing heating oil with woodfuel, and from removing its maintenance and operation responsibilities.

The local woodfuel economy also stands to gain as the co-operative intends to purchase woodfuel from local sources. The hope is that eventually their woodfuel - estimated at around 240 tonnes per year per boiler - will be sourced from the surrounding National Forest. This is a long-term objective as this woodland is still in its infancy.

Paul Craven, Principal of John Cleveland College: “The community owned co-operative approach has provided an innovative way in which to raise the capital required to replace our ageing boilers and at the same time dramatically reducing our annual heating bills. I am proud that we are actively reducing the carbon footprint of the college by introducing this technology, which also provides an excellent opportunity for the students to study the science of renewable energy in more detail.”

Alan Gledhill, Director of John Cleveland College Community Woodheat Co-operative said: “We are delighted to see the biomass boiler installed and supplying the college with sustainable heat. There are many more schools in Leicestershire that could benefit from a community energy approach, providing a no-cost solution for installing renewable technologies. We hope that John Cleveland College will be the first of many.”

Last updated: 11th July 2017