Bats, Boilers and Buses!

ROOF REPAIRS.  The costs of running a house as old as Dodding Green can become quite daunting, particularly when the building is listed and unforeseen expenses occur, as has happened recently.

In May last year, part of the roof on the gable end near the chapel collapsed due to weather damage, which had rotted some of the roof beams and broken some of the slates.  On inspection of the roof it was found that other areas needed attention, in particular most of the soffits and fascia boards required replacing and some of the windows required repair. A local company, experienced in repairs to listed buildings, were engaged to carry out the work which began after some unexpected delays at the end of July. What started as a reasonably simple repair soon escalated when it was found that other areas of the roof had suffered extensive weather damage and required urgent repair work, including replacing rotten timbers, re-felting and re-slating.

Most of the house was hidden behind scaffolding as work commenced on the repairs in late August, only for the builders to then find bats in the roof space! Work had to stop yet again as bats are protected by law and disturbing the bat roost could have ended with a fine and a prison sentence. A bat specialist surveyed the roosting bat population (both pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats) and advised how the works should continue and what additional work was needed. This included using different felting materials, installing access points for the bats and keeping noise to a minimum.

The constantly interrupted repair works to the roof were completed eventually in early December 2016 at a total cost of just over £21,000. Costs had risen because of the roosting bats and the additional weather damage to the roof, however, we were fortunate to receive a generous contribution from the Stephenson Trust to offset the costs. It is hoped that the roof lasts for many more years to come!

NEW BOILER.  Some 18 months ago we began investigating alternative heating systems to replace the ageing oil fired boiler which had been in use for many years in the main house at Dodding Green. Potential replacement systems included air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, a BioMass boiler system, solar panels or another oil fired system. Each had its good points as well as bad and these were taken into consideration when reviewing the alternatives available.

The points considered included ease of installation, initial set-up costs, maintenance and ongoing running costs, system life expectancy, carbon emissions, operating efficiency and noise of the systems, fuel storage, requirements for planning permission and Listed Building Consent, and the availability of payback schemes. These relate to the potential for reimbursement of the capital costs from the government over a period of up to 20 years. Those anticipated costs ranged from £10,000 to £80,000 although exact figures would only be known following site surveys and receipt of quotations. For example, a quotation received for an air source heat pump was £54,500 for supply and installation, with estimated annual running costs of £5,000 which are not insubstantial sums for a charity to find.

Before work was completed on looking at alternative systems, fate intervened when the oil fired boiler was condemned on a service visit in January. There were a number of problems with the boiler including corrosion, wrongly sited exhaust flue, leaking oil tank and failing current safety standards. The upshot was that the boiler had to be switched off and the lads were reliant on electric storage heaters and minimal availability of hot water for showers.

The needs of the lads were paramount so it was decided that pursuing quotes for every alternative heating system was not a viable proposition and that we would proceed with replacing the oil fired boiler with a like-for-like system in as short a timescale as possible. Quotations were obtained from several companies and installation work started at the end of February, with the new system being up and running by 7th March. We now have a new boiler, a 300 litre hot water cylinder and a new oil tank at a total cost of just over £7,500 which should keep the lads warm and washed for years.

MINIBUS.  The other big expense for the charity was when one of our vehicles, a Vauxhall Zafira, failed its MOT in October last year and had to be scrapped as it was not economically viable to carry out the extensive repairs necessary. Most of the Community’s houses have a minibus for transporting larger groups and a smaller second vehicle for use as a runabout, so the trustees considered that the best replacement for the Zafira was a minibus. Over a number or weeks we looked at various second-hand vehicles from different dealers around the North West, taking account of age, cost, number of seats (which affects who can drive), condition etc. Eventually, an ex-MOD Ford Transit minibus, with low mileage and in good condition was found at a dealer’s in Bradford and was collected from them on 19th November at a cost of just under £10,500. The minibus will be especially useful for transporting the lads to locations around the country when they give testimonies at schools and to other groups.

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