Hermitage Park is located on the site of a 13th Century water wheel used over centuries to enable the grinding of local grain. Fast forward to 2019 and the site has generated a new energy-related asset that utilises its physical surroundings to benefit its users. The Hermitage Park Pavilion designed by Hoskins Architects is the first public building in Scotland to meet the internationally recognised Passivhaus standard for building design. This means it provides a high level of comfort for building occupants whilst using minimal energy throughout the year for heating and cooling. 

Hermitage Park is an 9 acre public park in the heart of Helensburgh, a town of 15,000 residents 40 km north-west of Glasgow. It is owned and run by Argyll & Bute Council. It sits on the site of the former Hermitage House together with its pleasure grounds. The Milling burn which formerly fed the old grain mill is the main topographic feature cutting through the park. 

The Park is a place of historical significance for Helensburgh both from its time as a private landscape garden and as a public park for over 100 years. Today it is a vibrant community asset with 76,000 annual visitors.  This number is growing as the park nears completion of a major restoration and re-development enabled by a generous grant from The Heritage Fund, Parks for People scheme.

The park now offers amenities like a children’s play area, a kitchen garden and growing area, a formal walled garden that is home of the towns Category A listed War memorial, and the new pavilion with café, kiosk and community room.

In 2014 a group of local people approached the Council concerned about the worsening state of Hermitage Park. They proposed a work party to assist the Council with maintenance and suggested that an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Park for People. After a failed first application and further guidance from the Lottery Fund, the Council together with the local group submitted a second application for £3.6M was successful. The local group later formed a Friends of Hermitage Park group and this has been working in partnership with the Council ever since.

While some restoration and redevelopment work continues, the pavilion has recently been completed and the council is seeking a tenant ideally willing to work closely with all stakeholders. This arrangement is likely to be based on a 5 year lease to operate the café (with 50 internal covers and 10 more outside) which is hoped will generate approximately £25,000 annually in rental income.

The design of this building is based on Passivhaus standards making it highly energy efficient with minimal heat transfer through walls, roof and floors. It demonstrates the important principle of ‘fabric first’ when it comes to energy related building design. This is achieved by the use of high levels of insulation and air tightness, zero thermal bridging, high performance windows and doors, and mechanical ventilation. Air tight membranes and tapes are used to seal all joints and junctions. Energy consumption is reduced to such a level that minimal heating is required in winter; most of the demand can be covered by passive heat sources, such as the sun, the occupants and appliances. Around 80-90% less energy is consumed in comparison to conventional buildings dramatically cutting running costs and reducing its carbon emissions to virtually zero.

The Passivhaus (PH) standard has a 26 year track record across Europe of providing high quality, low carbon, low energy buildings. This is in contrast to buildings designed currently to meet the UK’s minimum building regulations and energy assessment standards. The PH standard is rigorous in terms of testing air flow and air tightness using a certified Passivhaus Assessor and a range of accredited building products. It has also been proven to provide healthy indoor environments through a combination of a continuous supply of fresh filtered air, passively preheated during the winter months and passively pre-cooled during the summer, coupled with the use of natural ‘breathable’ building materials. Low or zero interest loans are often available to organisations looking to develop PH standard buildings.

Buildings that meet this standard have effectively been future-proofed. They are highly likely to avoid the need for upgrade costs and associated disruption associated with the upcoming changes in Building Standards, to achieve the Nearly Energy Zero Building standard which the Scottish Government has expressed as a target.

While the heritage of the site remains tied to activities reliant on the power of flowing water, today’s park demonstrates what is achievable by the adoption of leading edge building design standards to achieve valuable assets with minimal energy demands.