Eco-nunnery is among first clients as M&E firm starts up woodchip business for biomass boilers

When the Benedictine nuns of the Conventus of Our Lady of Consolation moved to Stanbrook Abbey, their Feilden Clegg Bradley-designed eco-nunnery on the Yorkshire moors, earlier this month, they turned to contractor NG Bailey to supply their wood fuel.

The 4,000-strong, £600m turnover M&E specialist is well known for work on projects such as the refurbishment of Great Ormond Street Hospital. Now it has taken its business in an unexpected direction: forestry.

NG Bailey has built up a £150,000-turnover business supplying woodchip for biomass boilers to 14 local consumers from its 2,600-acre estate, Denton Hall on Ilkley Moor. Among the business’ customers are Bradford university, council libraries and now the abbey.

James Bush, Denton Hall estate manager, said the business was “non-core”, but he’s serious about it. Bush supplies 400 tonnes of wood annually from the hall’s 600 acres of woodland, but has agreements with other landowners in the area to supply 4,000 more, for which it will pay £30 a tonne.

Location is vital: if woodchip travels more than 35 miles it loses its “carbon benefit”.

We’re looking to develop a woodchip supply operation nationwide

James Bush, estate manager

Woodchip is one of a number of agricultural enterprises that NG Bailey runs from its neoclassical country headquarters; it is also home to 500 cattle, 2,000 sheep and clay pigeon shooting.

The company is now developing relationships with wood fuel bodies and suppliers around the UK. Bush said: “We’re looking to develop a chip supply operation nationwide.”

Part of the plan is to use the business to help sell the installation of woodchip boilers. “It’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” he said. “If people don’t have confidence in supply, they won’t install the boilers. We’re trying to put confidence in end users so they can see it’s a quality product and so they’re more likely to take a boiler.”