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St Mary's Voluntary Catholic Academy

The UK’s greenest primary school

Exterior of St Marys Voluntary Catholic school surrounded by greenery


Derby, United Kingdom


Tilbury Douglas Engineering


Stride Treglown

St Mary's Voluntary Catholic Academy, the UK's first net zero carbon (NZC) biophilic school, consists of five single-story buildings connected by a covered central walkway, promoting natural light and landscape access. It has been in operation for its first winter period, with no occupancy concerns and will be nearing its first full term with positive energy usage results.

Early design stages involved analysing cost, comfort, operational energy and embodied carbon assessments to facilitate a NZC enabled solution and the Department for Education (DfE) criteria. Initially, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) solutions with centralised services were considered. However, the final solution used intelligent natural ventilation, light shelves, and localised air source heat pumps, offering automated operation while maintaining comfort and fresh air. The intelligent natural ventilation system considered wind speeds, external temperatures, occupancy comfort, and CO2 levels, paired with automated roof-lights.

Large windows were designed in response to the biophilic brief to facilitate a connection from the teaching areas to the external environment and encourage outdoor learning and help to immerse students in the surrounding landscape. However, this posed significant challenges in relation to the provision of space heating and maintaining of appropriate levels of thermal comfort. The proposed strategy coordinated with the design team, incorporated purge ventilation during non-teaching hours to ‘pre-condition’ the spaces with cool external air in summer while full-height radiator panels addressed heating needs during the cooler months.

Belinda Morgan, Partner, commented ‘Our team managed the MEP and sustainability design, collaborating with the design team to enhance biophilic elements while achieving net zero carbon and the DfE design requirements. Leveraging insights from the Gen Zero Schools Research project, we evaluated various solutions and ultimately chose one that enhances resilience and efficiency.’

Key fact

The school will be part of a research programme with the University of Derby, who will be monitoring the various innovative elements of the building and reporting pupil health and wellbeing results


Key fact

The biophilic design focuses on connecting the internal environment with nature, with the goal of promoting physical and mental health


Peter Hazzard in beige suit and acoustics feature background

Peter Hazzard

Partner, Building Services

View bio

As the UK’s greenest primary school, and first biophilic school, this DfE pilot project will play a key role is setting future standards for eco-friendly schools of the future.



Sustainability Initiative of the Year