Insights article

Building better futures: Resident engagement in retrofit

Sebastian Weise
Published: 04/04/2023

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Achieving the UK’s NetZero aims requires a concerted effort to decarbonise our homes. The UK's legal target is to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 (read more here). Resident engagement in retrofit is key to achieve this mission. 

Decarbonising existing homes is a substantive challenge for any country and involves all tenures. This article will focus on the social rented sector, where programmes such as the Social Housing Decarbonation Fund have made resident engagement an essential requirement for funding success. 

As homes are our sanctuary and very personal, any successful efforts for retrofit need a careful and transparent approach to ensure that the retrofit programme gets off the ground. 

Barriers to tackle for resident engagement in retrofit

Generally, approaching a retrofit project benefits from a consistent direction rather than a piecemeal or scattergun approach. 

Improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings has several key challenges, which we have summarised below. 

People don’t invest in retrofit

Two thirds of residents don’t actively consider retrofit improvements. “Of those who were not considering any improvements, the most common reason for this believed their home was already efficient enough (35%), followed by not owning their own home (29%) and changes costing too much money (28%).” UK Gov (2022) - Age of the property is the biggest single factor in the energy efficiency of homes - Office for National Statistics.

Every home is different

Most homes are changed and adapted over the years, meaning you’d likely need a bespoke solution for every home. I reckon this can be helped by 1) trying to identify house typologies with similar characteristics; 2) and perhaps through direct resident feedback/input. 

Anxiety about retrofit technologies

Many residents need clarification about how various changes or retrofit technologies work in practice and what those changes mean for them regarding benefits. This can generate significant levels of anxiety about the unknown. 

The business case

The cost-benefit needs to be clear - especially if homeowners need to be convinced. Retrofit is often applied on a pay-as-you-save model, needing clarity about the long-term payback, but what iflookingre about it as you intend to sell the home? Does it need to include accounting for thermal comfort?

Why resident engagement in retrofit is key

For an estate retrofit programme to succeed, engaging with residents before any work commences is essential. Early and consistent engagement ensures that the project aligns with local needs and priorities and provides an opportunity to communicate complex ideas straightforwardly. 

For example, Doina Caniparu (Wates Living Space) recently told UnlockNetZero: “What hasn’t changed is the simple fact that the earliest you start a conversation, the more positive an experience the resident will have.”

Shaping plans

Greater resident participation can help housing associations engage underrepresented community voices, and lead to more excellent project outcomes for both estate retrofit programmes and residents. This builds trust and a productive working relationship between all parties involved.

Keeping residents updated

Consultation should occur regularly and within an acceptable timeline to enable communities to express their views. This could involve various approaches such as face-to-face meetings, digital workshops, or access to online resources that explain and visualise project outcomes. Once a consultation is over, feedback should be provided to residents and other interested parties, ensuring everyone is satisfied with the outcome and has an in-depth understanding of the next steps.

Developing positive messages around health and well-being

The business case for retrofit is essential. Still, other aspects and benefits are often also key: Think about how you can talk about the long-term health and wellbeing benefits, such as thermal comfort in the winter and the resulting improvements in living standards. 

For the approach to resident engagement in a major housing association, a report by Orbit is also worth taking a look at. The report is here: How will the retrofit programme to achieve net zero carbon impact customers? 

Watch your message - talking about healthy homes 

When engaging with residents for retrofit programmes mentioned above, it pays to be transparent, open and honest about what’s realistic to achieve, in which timeframe, and with which benefits. 

It’s easy to focus on programme and cost and, as a result, forget the soft or human element to retrofit programmes. 

A recent study by PlaceShapers, an essential body for housing associations, reflects this view. They arranged resident panels to focus on housing retrofit and to understand perspectives from residents’ points of view. 

In your message, a key conclusion was to not talk “about ‘Fuel Poverty”, but instead emphasise “healthy homes”.  The report reflects: “Many stakeholders recognised that money is not always a significant motivation for residents. [...] Our stakeholders suggested that ‘healthy homes’ are an underused talking point which has proved effective with many residents.”

Why use digital tools to be transparent and open?

On-going contact and support for residents will always be key to a successful regeneration or retrofit programme. A first step would involve investing in a resident liaison team, which can communicate in suitable ways, handle and manage concerns, and lead on engagement. 

In this day and age, resident engagement will also need to be done online to fill gaps between face-to-face meetings, provide comprehensive information in easy-to-understand and valuable formats and enable alternative engagement methods. 

Be transparent about constraints

Tools like PlaceChangers, for instance, can provide robust analytical data that can help estate retrofit programmes to shape their projects. It includes ordnance survey details, environmental awareness, and proximity to social amenities. Access to better data means development teams can work quicker and more innovative to facilitate projects and enhance design aspects.

Visualise the scale of the issue.

Digital workshops that use 2D and 3D mapping software can effectively demonstrate critical constraints to the retrofit programme by showing the range of properties in consideration and the likely interventions suitable for each. 

Developing positive messages around health and well-being

The business case for retrofit is essential. Still, other aspects and benefits are often also key: Think about how you can talk about the long-term health and wellbeing benefits, such as thermal comfort in the winter and the resulting improvements in living standards. 

Specific and constructive dialogue

Enable residents to review plans and programmes in their own time and enable them to provide constructive feedback, for example, specific to their property or concerns, which can help to shape the project plans.

Enhance understanding of complex technical detail

Facilitating efficient and streamlined communication between stakeholders can help avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication that can lead to extra costs and delays. This is especially important for estate retrofit programmes, which often involve significant work and require expert knowledge of legal and technical procedures.

Enabling residents to leave feedback or prioritise programs

Digital planning tools can also enable residents to submit questions or feedback about community plans, making it more straightforward for estate retrofit programmes to understand what residents want from their projects and create strategies that benefit all involved.

By making planning more accessible and transparent, these tools play a crucial role in empowering residents and building trust. For retrofit programmes on a place- or estate-wide basis, resident engagement is an essential success factor for programme delivery. 

At PlaceChangers, we support estate retrofit programmes by providing a definitive toolkit to maximise outcomes. Our engagement tools, including our interactive consultation, help set up advanced map surveys and community polls to support both the pre-application and application processes. We implement Geographic Implement System (GIS) technology into our services, meaning that estate retrofit programmes can reach new clients, deliver a higher standard of briefs, and empower projects through automation. Contact us today to book a demo or start your free trial.

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PC Site Insights - Unique location insights tool for health and wellbeing outcomes

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