With 29,000 homes Becontree Estate is the largest public housing scheme in the world. Started in the 1920s under the ‘Homes Fit for Heroes’ pledge, the estate remains a great source of local pride. Residents and Barking and Dagenham council, who retain ownership of a third of the homes, are now asking how they can make their homes ‘Fit for the Future’?
To answer this question, BeFirst – the borough’s wholly-owned regeneration company – commissioned us to work with residents and to lead a collaborative team to undertake an energy baseline review of the existing homes and to co-create the Becontree Estate Retrofit Guide. The prototype Becontree Model House will showcase the retrofit solutions described in the guide, and will be tested on an existing empty home in the estate.
The homes of the Becontree Estate are hard to keep warm and suffer from damp and mould. Residents told us that they struggle to pay their fuel bills and suffer from related health issues. Retrofitting the homes to improve the energy performance could eliminate fuel poverty, significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and create healthier homes with better air quality.
The sheer scale of the Becontree Estate and the fact that most of the homes were built using just three standard designs provides an extraordinary opportunity to implement mass retrofit. However, retrofit solutions will only be useful if residents adopt them.
It’s vitally important to incentivise the retrofitting of homes and to create a balance between collective responsibility and individual action, with resident involvement and needs at the centre, driving this forward. By running workshops with residents we have been able to better understand their diverse needs, and have developed the Retrofit Guide to respond to the particular issues and barriers they raised, and the trust they need to have in suppliers and contractors in order to take first steps.
Our work has been used to inform BeFirst’s emerging Becontree Estate Design Code, which is being drafted to simplify the planning process, allowing residents to more easily adapt and retrofit their homes whilst also protecting and enhancing the character of the estate. Our work also ties in with BeFirst’s Future Neighbourhood Strategy, which promotes activities that will sustain and grow London’s green economy.