23 Mar 2023

Let’s collaborate to start an honest and open conversation about retrofit

Meeting net zero targets is both a challenge and an opportunity for the sector. We all know the numbers are big, 31 per cent of social housing homes need work doing to upgrade them to EPC C by 2030 (English Housing Survey 2021 – 2022). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there’s a whole host of additional work to go carbon neutral by 2050.  

We’re also trying to help tenants navigate the cost of living crisis. The short term solution to this is more support for energy bills, but long term, it’s to make homes more energy efficient. Effectively insulating and ventilating homes creates warm and healthy homes, at a time when the quality of social housing has come under increased scrutiny.

It’s not an easy road though, as there are huge challenges around funding, the supply chain, and shortage of skills.

Engaging with tenants can also be difficult at times. Some housing associations have reported no access rates of up to 30 per cent (NHC Retrofit Communications Survey, December 2022), though thankfully this isn’t the norm. If you put yourself in residents’ shoes its understandable individuals have concerns. Retrofit work can be disruptive, and there’s also uncertainty about some of the new technology, such as heat pumps. People just want to know that what’s installed in their home will work and be easy to use.

However, while tackling the supply chain issues can feel somewhat out of our control, improving resident engagement, and as part of that, good communication, is something within our reach.

I recently spoke at the CIH Northern Housing Festival alongside Samantha Granger from Thirteen Group, residents from Yorkshire Housing, and members of the Social Housing Tenants’ Climate Jury, Steve Mackenzie and Terry Tasker. There was a consensus across the panel on the importance of good communication including use of clear language, face-to-face engagement with trusted contacts, and the role that tenant champions can play.

I’m managing a retrofit communications project with Northern Housing Consortium, Placeshapers and Tpas. The aim is to create comms resources to support social landlords to communicate with customers about retrofit. It’s all about the sector collaborating to find a solution, rather than duplicating.

I’m working with a tenant advisory group and a communications advisory group made up of representatives from the sector. The sessions we’ve had so far have been really useful. One of the biggest takeaways for me has been the need to create trust between tenants and landlords. Both groups will play a big part in making sure what we produce is relevant to tenants and the housing sector.

I hope that this project will help us cease the opportunity to improve how we communicate around retrofit. I want us to offer co-created resources which will start an open and honest conversation between landlords and tenants about retrofit, which everyone will benefit from.

Written by Kathy Thomas

Kathy Thomas is communication project manager (net zero) at the Northern Housing Consortium, working on a joint project with Placeshapers and Tpas.