Traditional products like wool and slate will be trialled as part of a major drive to decarbonise 7,000 homes across Gwynedd.
According to business leaders, the ground-breaking Tŷ Gwyrddfai eco-project in Penygroes will put “rocket boosters” under the county’s economy as well as making the properties more energy efficient and cheaper to keep warm at a time of soaring energy costs.
The scheme is being championed by housing association Adra in partnership with Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, which runs three colleges, and Bangor University.
The £1.5 million refurbishment of Tŷ Gwyrddfai has breathed new life into the former Northwood tissue factory which was the beating heart of the local economy in Penygroes for generations before it closed down with the loss of 100 jobs five years ago.
The dilapidated 120,000 sq ft factory has now been transformed into a centre of excellence for green technologies.
The development is particularly timely after the Welsh Government decreed that all social housing would need to meet much higher environmental standards by 2030.
It’s a huge challenge for the likes of Adra who have 7,000 homes to manage – 80 per cent of them were built more than 50 years ago, with many of them being in conservation areas.
Depending on the location and condition of the properties, they will have to be retro-fitted with energy-saving measures, including exterior insulation, solar panels, air source pumps and heat recovery systems – all designed to combat climate change and fuel poverty.
Until now housing associations like Adra have often been forced to procure contractors from outside the area because the necessary skills aren’t available locally – and that’s where Tŷ Gwyrddfai comes in.
Grŵp Llandrillo Menai will be training young people, staff from local companies and Adra’s in-house contractor, Tim Trwsio, so they can gain the qualifications they need.
That will enable local companies to compete for lucrative contracts and have a trained workforce that’s ready to go.
Dafydd Evans, chief executive of Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, said: “It’s one of the most exciting projects we have ever been involved with because we will be making a real difference to our communities.
“This project has the potential to totally transform the local economy, increasing skills and creating jobs and opportunities for local contractors who would otherwise have missed out. They will now be able to compete for work right on their doorstep.”
As part of the project Bangor University will build what they describe as a Living Lab inside Tŷ Gwyrddfai where locally produced materials like wool and slate can be tested.