Case study: Heat and power refurbishment at Stour Leisure Centre

Ashford Borough Council had to close the Stour Leisure Centre during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

They used the time closed to upgrade their heating systems and make environmentally friendly improvements.

The problem they faced

The Stour Leisure Centre in Ashford was built in 1972 and has been extensively remodeled, extended and upgraded over the last 50 years.

Over 680,000 people visit each year to make use of the gym, climbing centre, sports halls and swimming pools. These facilities demand a huge amount of energy, which was mostly provided by 9 gas-fired boilers with no renewable energy sources in back-up. Making matters worse were inefficiencies in the ageing infrastructure, such as:

  • 7 of the 9 gas-fired boilers not being fully functional
  • a faulty air conditioning chiller unit
  • heat-recapturing technology past its working date.

Before the pandemic the centre's energy costs were £390,000 per year, with 1,196 tonnes of carbon emissions being produced.

What they did

Ashford Borough Council, and the centre's operators Freedom Leisure, successfully applied for a £1.7 million Public Sector Decarbonisation Grant.

The used the money to totally overhaul the centre's energy systems and make fantastic use of renewable energy sources.

Projects they completed with the money included:

  • a new air-source heat pump system replacing 90% of the energy generated from the gas-fired boilers
  • installation of 598 solar panels on the roof
  • new low-energy lighting systems in all areas with automatic sensor controls
  • energy efficiency upgrades to the swimming pool pumps and heating systems.


Ashford Borough Council and Freedom Leisure are very happy with how the project went.

The total carbon emissions from the centre were 352 tonnes last year, that's a 71% reduction!

The installed systems are estimated to last for 15 to 20 years before needing replacement.

The future

Ashford Borough Council are currently sound-proofing the air-source heat pumps to address some low-level noise issues. Future air source heat pump projects will factor this knowledge in.

As renewable energy technology develops, there may be opportunities to upgrade the solar panels and heat pumps to make them even more efficient. This is much easier than upgrading older gas boilers.

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