Background and history

The Setting and the Community

 
 

The Cumbrian parish of Kentmere occupies the northern reaches of the secluded Kentmere Valley, in which the River Kent flows southward for some eight miles from the mountain summit of High Street towards the village of Staveley, in the south-east of the Lake District National Park. Though relatively short (you can see the estuary from its source), the river loses over 600 metres in height over its 20 mile course, which causes it to be very fast flowing, rising rapidly during rain and falling quickly afterwards. In times of excessive flood, the water meadows of the upper valley act to regulate the river flow, which would otherwise tend to overwhelm areas downstream.

The valley has only one access road (from the south) and the only ways out to the east, west and north are along ancient pack-horse trails. It is one of the many beautiful places in the Lake District National Park and greatly valued by its residents. It attracts a constant flow of visitors throughout the year who come to enjoy both the general environment and the natural outdoor resources it provides. But the valley is not a theme park; we are fortunate to still be a living, thriving, working community with a strong sense of social responsibility.

The community infrastructure includes a church, probably dating from William I, but with a catalogued history from 1450. There is a village hall known as the Kentmere Institute built in 1925 at the instigation of the Women's Institute, and currently in need of work to reflect recent changes in regulations affecting such public buildings. These are two large and significant buildings that have to be maintained by the small population.

There is a café/guest house but no other shops or similar services. Residents have to travel either to Staveley, where there are some local amenities, or into Kendal or Windermere (10 and 12 miles away respectively) for the nearest bank or supermarket.

What we do have is a strong sense of "community" within the parish. We run our own "First responders" cardiac arrest team, which has helped to set up a similar scheme in its larger neighbour, Staveley. TV reception is provided by a community-run booster transmitter system. The Parochial Church Council keeps the church building open at all times on the basis that it provides a refuge for anyone coming off the surrounding hills in bad weather conditions. This hydro project springs directly from that sense of social responsibility, and the desire to make the community independent of future grant support that would inevitably be required to maintain its facilities. We would like to use our good fortune to extend that independence to other Cumbrian communities.

The scheme is a 'run of river' scheme. There is no dam to impound the water. Instead a small and unobtrusive weir is built across the river. This extracts water from the river flow, and diverts it down a pipe, (called a penstock), under pressure, to a turbine house. The water in the pipe under the pressure head drives a turbine. (The turbine drives a generator which produces electricity. When most of the energy has been extracted from the water, it is discharged back into the river. There is thus no change in the river flow, upstream and downstream of the scheme. There is a minimum flow in the river which is agreed with the Environment Agency. This is called the 'hands off' flow. If the flow is less than this, no water is abstracted. When the flow in the river is very high, the hydro scheme still only takes its design capacity, which is a small fraction of the maximum river flow. Thus the impact on the flow in the river is nil at low flows and very small at high flows. Because of the variations in the flow in the river, electricity will only be generated intermittently, when there is enough water flowing. This is different from a conventional impoundment scheme, with a dam and reservoir, when the flow can be controlled. The disadvantage of a run of river scheme is its intermittent nature. The advantage of a run of river scheme is its minimum impact because it only has two visible structures, the weir and power house, and these are unobtrusive.

More information about Kentmere is available on the web.

 

 
 
 
 
 
   
 

Page last updated May 17, 2011

 
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