Sandford Hydro: Community Power

Adriano Figueiredo, Operations Director at Low Carbon Hub, describes how one small community can make big things happen in the fight to go green, and we hear from Liz Shatford, one of the founding members of the social enterprise that initiated the project.

“Upon completion, Sandford Hydro will be the largest hydro-electric plant on the Thames, generating approximately 1.6 GWh of clean electricity each year - that’s enough to power around 500 households, just shy of the full Sandford village.

“Sandford Hydro is the brainchild and labour of love of local community members, who saw an opportunity to do something good for the environment and to show what can be achieved when a community comes together in this way. Using three Archimedes screws (each larger than a double decker bus), the Sandford hydro-electric plant will transform the Lasher Weir into a significant provider of clean energy, generating electricity from the powerful flow of the water. An important part of the process has been ensuring that Sandford Hydro will have minimal impact on the local ecosystem and wildlife; it even features a specially-designed fish pass to allow all species in the river to migrate upstream for the first time in nearly 400 years.

“At Low Carbon Hub, we were delighted to be asked to help develop the project from a wonderful idea into a tangible reality. It is the largest project we have ever worked on and there have been many challenges and difficulties along the way, financial security being just one of them.

Workers With Screws

Workers transport one of the Archimedes screws down the river to the hydro-electric plant site.

“Securing this loan from Charity Bank was a vital step in the progress of this project. In fact, without Charity Bank there would be no Sandford Hydro.”

- Adriano Figueiredo, Operations Director

“A significant amount of funding has been generated through a community share offer, meaning individuals are able to invest in a project that will not only offer them a fair return but will also benefit their own community and society in general. However, the magnitude of this undertaking also required more sizeable backing.

“We approached several banks for funding to help secure the future of Sandford Hydro, but what became clear very quickly was that Charity Bank really cared about our project and wanted to be a part of making it happen. Most commercial banks were singularly focused on the financial side of it, whereas Charity Bank was also interested in the social and environmental impact that our project would create. There was a clear alignment of objectives and we’ve had nothing but support and invaluable help.”

Timelapse film of the Archimedes screws being lifted into place

Liz Shatford, Parish Clerk of Sandford-on-Thames, one of the founding members of the Sandford Hydro Community Interest Company who initiated the Sandford Hydro project, describes how seeing this ambitious project come to life has awoken a spirit of community consciousness in her area.

“Over ten years ago now, a friend and I were talking about how wasteful it seemed that the incredible power of the water on our stretch of the Thames was no longer utilised. The seed for the idea that has become Sandford Hydro was born. It’s been a long, complex process but we kept at it and, once Low Carbon Hub and then Charity Bank had come on board, we knew it had all been worthwhile.

“Seeing something that we all worked so hard on become a reality has certainly influenced our local community. It’s offered an enormous educational opportunity and has awoken a certain consciousness about our environment, the river and our local ecosystem. The tangible benefits are wide reaching and include the clean energy that will be created, the financial return for those who took up the Community Share offer, and - my personal favourite - the fish pass that will allow fish to migrate further upstream!”

Community On Barge Smaller

Members of the Sandford community passing by the Archimedes screws as they travel down the river to the hydro site.

Aerial Shot Of First Two Screws

An aerial shot of the first two screws in place at the hydro-electric plant