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The Whalley Community Hydro Project aims to place power back in the community

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 September 2014 | UPDATED: 19:19 23 May 2016

Whalley Community Hydro development site

Whalley Community Hydro development site

Archant

The success of this pretty Lancashire village is down to the people who live and work there. Emma Mayoh met some of them

Chris Gathercole and Tim Ashworth of Whalley Community HydroChris Gathercole and Tim Ashworth of Whalley Community Hydro

The ruins of Whalley Abbey and the view across the River Calder have been attracting people to this pretty village for decades. But later this year it will have a different kind of pulling power.

The Whalley Community Hydro Project will include the installation of a micro hydroelectric plant on the south side of the river to harness the green power of the water and generate electricity.

Money earned from supplying the grid will then be distributed to community shareholders and also help to pay for other local projects that promote renewable energy.

‘This is an energy that the monks used 600 years ago at Whalley Abbey,’ says Chris Gathercole, director of Whalley Community Hydro. ‘We knew there would be a way for us to use the water for power. We wanted to reduce our need for fossil fuels as well as having energy security for the future.

Whalley AbbeyWhalley Abbey

‘There are things being done in other parts of the county but we wanted something that would be for Whalley and help the village. We love the community side of the project. It’s been an exciting process for us.’

The £750,000 needed for the project has been raised through a loan from The Charity Bank as well as more than £400,000 that has been invested through a community shareholder scheme.

‘This has been really encouraging for us,’ added Tim Ashworth, the project manager. ‘The investment from shareholders has been largely local – around 80 per cent. To get so much support is really heartening. It makes us feel like we are on the right track and doing something for Whalley people.’

The hydro will be clad in materials to make them look like agricultural buildings and a fish pass has been installed so migratory fish are able to get over the weir. It is hoped that this will accelerate the opening up the whole of the Calder Basin, in which the weir sits, to migrating fish. School visits to the site are planned so young people can see the hydro project in action.

Alan RoffAlan Roff

The scheme has the backing of resident and investor, Alan Roff, who lives in The Marjorie, a famous Whalley house that overlooks the weir.

The 62-year-old, the former deputy vice chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire, said: ‘I have lived here for 30 years and it has always been a great place to be. I wanted to know more about the project because my house overlooks it. But I have been very impressed with the plans. It is a good scheme and I’m sure one that will benefit the village.’

It is the strong commitment shown by the locals that has made the village the thriving success it is today. An impressive number of independent shops and businesses are well supported by the community as are a healthy number of local groups and organisations.

One woman embedded in Whalley life is Joyce Holgate MBE, a local councillor for 19 years and active on a host of local organisations. It was when she first ran Abbey Candy Store in King Street that her love affair with the village and its people began.

‘It is just a fantastic place to be,’ said the 83-year-old. ‘I’ve always been so happy to be here and proud to be a part of things that happen in the village.

‘I just love helping people. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I hope I have made a difference. I can’t even think about stepping down just yet. I enjoy it too much.’

A recent success story is the Whalley Old Grammar School Community Centre, a historic building that was in danger of falling into disuse.

Eric Ronnan, chair of governors, said: ‘We didn’t want the building to go, particularly because it had such valuable community resources, such as the pre-school group. It was first built for the education of the people of Whalley, the first school in the village. We wanted to carry it on.’

The pre-school was able to find some of the money needed. ‘The local businesses and the community also helped us by staging an auction which helped raise more funds. Whalley Parish Council were really helpful too.’

The 84-year-old, along with former teacher Derek Pickup, 64, has kept the building going with help from a group of 12 volunteers. It is hoped that soon it will once again be the thriving centre where local organisations meet.

Eric and Derek hope to have all of the rooms open for public use as well as doing an exhibition of the history of the building and the village in October.

Eric said: ‘We have come a long way since last November. But we could not have done it without the help of the Whalley community and our volunteers. We feel positive about the future now and we’re looking forward to doing more so we can continue for many years.’

Shopping heaven

Whalley is home to a variety of thriving independent shops, from fashion to food. A walk down the main high street reveals a range of quality retailers who attract shoppers from far afield.

One of them is The Whalley Wine Shop, owned by Tom Jones, who was just 26 when he started the business three years ago. Since then the shop has won accolades including Independent Drinks Retailer of the Year.

He said: ‘I was managing the shop when it was the old Threshers. It just felt like the right thing to do to take the business on. It is very hard work but it really pays off.

‘I get so much enjoyment from meeting the people who come into the shop.

‘We deal with people all around the country, including a lot of London customers, but I love nothing more than meeting the people here in Whalley. It is a lovely village full of dedicated business owners like me who all want to make it the best it can be. I love being here.’

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