Prisoners are helping to build a green housing development that’s insulating tenants against soaring heating bills and helping to save the planet at the same time.
A factory unit has been set up at HMP Berwyn in Wrexham where 25 inmates are making wooden panels for the 63 timber-framed homes for ClwydAlyn housing association at the Glasdir housing estate in Ruthin.
Tenants have already moved into 35 of the properties which are a mix of flats, houses and bungalows, with between one and four bedrooms.
All of them are packed with money saving, eco-friendly features, including solar panels coupled with battery storage, air source heat pumps, triple glazed windows and wood-fibre insulation.
As a result, the tenants say their energy bills are down to between £10 and £15 a week, depending on their usage
In addition every one of the properties has a seven-volt car charging point outside and the estate’s roads are made with recycled single use plastic as a binding agent instead of bitumen which is a major source of air pollution.
The £13.8 million scheme has been made possible thanks to additional funding from Welsh Government via their Innovative Housing Programme.
The development has been hailed as “best in class” by the North Wales Business Council, the driving force behind the Net Zero North Wales network which supports North Wales businesses and not-for-profit organisations to reach net zero.
Leading members of the network were taken on a tour of the scheme to find out more about its impressive green credentials.
Business Council Chief Executive Ashley Rogers said: “As an organisation focused on supporting our regions’ businesses to reach Net Zero, what we’ve heard here today is music to our ears.
“We can learn from developments like this and inform and inspire our businesses to do the same where possible.
“We have to be moving towards these kind of developments in both the private and public sectors.
“Glasdir proves what can be done on Net Zero with clear policy, forward thinking organisations and government support.
“Businesses also need that government support and so we’re very much looking forward to seeing details of the new Development Bank of Wales fund for small and medium-sized businesses to decarbonize their operations.”
According to Tony Hughes, the Commercial Director of the scheme’s main contractor, Bala-based Williams Homes, it was the greenest development they had ever delivered for Clwyd Alyn.
He said: “The timber frames are produced in HMP Berwyn using Welsh wood and we make the triple glazed windows made with durable Accoya timber in Bala, which are sprayed with a water-based finish and have a lifespan of up to 60 years.
“The batteries store electricity to be used in the evening when the solar panels are not generating.
“Heating and hot water comes from an air source heat pump and that runs at 70 degrees capacity like traditional boilers.
“Every tonne of the tarmac we use on the estate’s roads is the equivalent of 80,000 single use plastic bottles being recycled.”
Their partnership with HMP Berwyn had also played a key role in the scheme’s success.
Mr Hughes said: “We have our own manager based in the prison to oversee quality and they produce upwards of 120 panels a week.
“We also offer the inmates employment opportunities on site, released on a temporary licence to work with our own team to improve their skills with the intention that when they get released they have the training and qualifications, to hopefully reduce re-offending and give them a better chance of building a new future for themselves.”
According to Stuart Hughes, ClwydAlyn Development Project Manager, the involvement of the inmates has added to the social value of the development while the mix of properties had been designed specifically to meet local housing needs.
He said: “The money from the Innovative Housing Programme has enabled us to install technologies that we wouldn’t do otherwise and the specification is higher than you would generally get in new builds on the open market.
“We have higher quality kitchens and higher quality components which help in lifting the property, giving them a longer lifespan and making them easier to maintain.
“I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved here. This is the best scheme that ClwydAlyn has ever done. It’s also the greenest.
“To see the faces of the tenants when we hand over the keys gives you a real lift and puts a smile on your face.”
Among the delighted tenants mum of three Sharon Hartshorne, 34, and her partner, Mark Jones.
She said: “We love living here. This is our dream home – it’s absolutely beautiful.
“I love how spacious it is, how big the garden is, how close it is to the school and to town.
“We’ve got all the bells and whistle when it comes to being energy efficient and it’s cutting down a lot on our heating bills. It’s a lot cheaper than any other house we’ve been in.
“We won’t be moving from here now – this is our home for life.”