All posts from: December 2009
You would think that a discussion on retrofitting in rural Hampshire on a wet November afternoon would not attract many people. In fact, the Retrofit conference organised by Radian Housing Association gathered 150 delegates last Friday, who submitted a slightly intimidating 50 questions for the Question Time session that I chaired at the end of the day.
As well as an enthusiastic audience, we had a great panel: Colin Butfield of WWF, Paul Ciniglio and Lindsay Todd of Radian Housing Association, Andrew Lee of the Sustainable Development Commission, John Doggart of the Sustainable Energy Academy, and Duncan Price of Camco.
The reason that it worked so well is that each of these people and organization have very different approaches to sustainability. Colin is an expert on winning people over, as head of campaigns for WWF. Radian are working on projects at the moment to retrofit their tenants’ homes, in the face of tough financial constraints. Andrew talked about the whole picture of sustainability and how houses can translate to communities. John knows a lot about people power and using interest from consumers, as he runs the ‘Old home, superhome’ project that gets people sharing knowledge. Duncan has the technical and practical knowledge.
There can be a tendency for the social housing world to speak to itself – and it is essential that we don’t on this topic. We need to learn as much as possible form the wider green community. It meant that we had a huge range of suggestions on how a widespread retrofitting campaign would be funded, for example: European funding, Pay as you save, money saved on winter fuel payments, feed-in tariffs, inspirational leaders showing best practice, community pride, government certainty that will let the market find solutions, creativity, clear leadership so people know here they fit in…
We barely skimmed the surface in 35 minutes but it was a rewarding discussion. And one of the best things about it was that Mr Leslie, the tenant I wrote about yesterday who will be living in one of the retrofitted homes, was sitting in the front row and asked a question. We will need everyone’s ideas and views if we are going to solve this.
Retrofitting will be the next big thing for the sector - and it makes perfect sense when you visit one of the overhauled schemes.
On Friday, I caught a train to the middle of the Hampshire countryside, to a small town called Liphook. Radian Housing Association was holding its first sustainability conference there.
As I was chairing the Question Time session in the afternoon, I got a ride on the tour bus in the morning and visited some of the landlord’s new retrofitted homes. The houses being transformed are Reema, with hollow concrete walls, which were only intended to last for 30 years when they were put up in the 1950s – and now impossible to get a mortgage on. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t well-liked by their tenants – and very cosy, with a bit of care. That is what Radian has been giving them, with full external insulation and overhaul.
We spoke to the Leslies, who are waiting in a retrofitted property next door while their home is transformed. They are already pleased with the change and didn’t need to have the heating on while we were there, despite the chilly November day outside. The only quibble from Mr Leslie is that he is unlikely to get photovoltaic panels on his house, as they will be going on the void properties – so new tenants will benefit from reduced electricity bills, green energy and possibly money back from a feed-in tariff.
Going into a house that had not been tackled, and comparing it with the Leslies’ temporary home, it just seemed so obvious that this is what the social housing sector should be tackling next, following Decent Homes. If we can’t build enough new social homes, we can at least take care of the ones we’ve got and make sure that their occupants are not living in fuel poverty, not experiencing health problems because of cold or damp, and that the houses last as long a possible.
How to pay for it and make that happen? That was what we discussed at the afternoon conference: more on that tomorrow.