Reflections on: Social Housing Retrofit at Scale: Getting Engagement Right
July 2024
By Katie Sexton

Last month, we had the privilege of hosting an LFA panel event that brought together key players in the field of social housing retrofit. Against the backdrop of a dual crisis—a climate emergency and a housing shortage—the event underscored the urgency and potential for upgrading social housing to ensure warm, comfortable, and sustainable homes.

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The Event: A Collaborative Effort

Hosted by Archio at Levitt Bernstein’s offices, the event was a showcase of collaborative spirit and forward-thinking strategies. Held in the heart of London, we attracted a diverse audience eager to explore innovative approaches to retrofitting social housing. Our goal was to foster meaningful dialogue and outline actionable steps towards creating social housing that meets the needs of the present while safeguarding the future.Opening Remarks

The evening began with inspiring remarks from Kyle Buchanan, Director at Archio, that set the tone for the discussion ahead. Kyle emphasised the importance of sustainability in the built environment. He highlighted that "effective communication and engagement are essential to drive the kind of large-scale retrofitting projects we need."

Panel Discussions: Insightful and Engaging

The first panellist to take the stage was Cara Holmes, Technical Programme Manager at the National Retrofit Hub, who joined us remotely from Wales. In her insightful analysis, Holmes delved into the varying levels of interest and financial capability among homeowners regarding heat pump installations. With almost half of homeowners uninterested due to high costs, and another significant portion interested but unable to finance the upfront costs, her report underscores the importance of diverse and accessible financing options. Holmes highlights the need for innovative funding mechanisms and targeted approaches to mobilise the interest in heat pumps, which could significantly drive the transition to cleaner heating solutions.

Steven Wilding, Head of Net Zero and Green Economy at Hounslow, followed with a comprehensive approach to retrofitting neighbourhoods for net-zero carbon emissions. He outlined a multi-faceted strategy that includes everything from insulation and renewable energy to smart mobility and green infrastructure. By focusing on shortlisted neighbourhoods in the Hounslow, Wilding emphasises the importance of tailored community participation. The phased approach involves training resident researchers, conducting workshops, and integrating feedback into the project design, ensuring that the retrofit initiatives not only address environmental goals but also resonate with, and benefit, the community.

Jack Ostrofsky, Retrofit London Programme Director at London Councils, presented a clear roadmap for effective climate action, emphasising the need for improved processes and communication. Key strategies include enhancing lead management to better target and qualify opportunities, ensuring robust communication between delivery partners and residents, and addressing the skills deficit in the workforce. Ostrofsky emphasised the importance of clear property assessment guidelines to tailor climate solutions effectively. This proactive approach aims to make it easier for communities to adopt and benefit from sustainable practices, ultimately driving meaningful change.

Clare Murray, Head of Sustainability at Levitt Bernstein, outlined a comprehensive strategy for upgrading the energy efficiency of different types of buildings. She categorised properties into distinct archetypes and provided tailored retrofit measures for each. Key recommendations include upgrading glazing, improving insulation, installing heat pumps, and incorporating solar panels. Murray stated that the primary goal is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, lower carbon emissions, and enhance occupant comfort. The plan underlines the importance of making necessary improvements to ensure buildings are "heat pump ready," thereby supporting more sustainable and energy-efficient housing.

 

Moving Forward: A Vision for Sustainable Social Housing

The event concluded with a vibrant discussion on the next steps. Participants brainstormed ideas on how to enhance collaboration across the sector and leverage existing resources more effectively.

 

Showcase of Archio’s Retrofit Guides

One of the key highlights of the event was the presentation of Archio’s work on Co-Design Toolkits. In 2022, we released our Co-Design Toolkit, a free resource for like-minded people who want to understand the benefits of, and how to tackle the challenges of Co-Design. At this event, we have announced our second toolkit, the Retrofit Co-Design Toolkit! An array of useful information on how best to co-design retrofit projects. These guides are designed to assist local authorities and housing associations in planning and executing retrofit projects that are not only effective but also tailored to the specific needs of communities.

 

Closing Thoughts

Hosting this event reinforced our belief that the path to sustainable social housing lies in collaboration, innovation, and community engagement. It brought up some of the key challenges that we face, and gave people a platform to discuss them. We are immensely grateful to all our panellists, and attendees for their contributions.

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