The green agenda is about investing in peoples’ homes and our communities’ futures

Matthew Walker, 10 September 2020

At the last PlaceShapers Northern Forum event in February (before lockdown – when we could actually gather in the same room in groups of 40!), there was a slight sense of unease around the room as we all listened to Julian Ashby and Gordon Watts talk about what their organisations were doing on the green agenda.

The unease grew as people realised their organisations were some way off where the speakers were describing, lessening as people realised most organisations in the room were in the same place.

Then Covid-19 happened and all thoughts of zero carbon and massive investment programmes disappeared for a while. As things settle back down to a new normal, our thoughts are turning back to those same challenges – which as we all know never went away.

How do we achieve the investment levels required without it threatening our viability, and without it impeding on our other priorities like development and additional building safety expenditure? Executive teams are discussing this topic across the country, and rightly so.

But we will make a huge mistake if we just think about the green agenda in terms of cost and investment. It’s about peoples’ homes, and our communities’ futures.

During our PlaceShapers roundtable discussions with members during June, we discussed the customer perspective. How do we ensure that customers are with us as we start this mammoth investment programme?

If customers are central to what we do, surely an investment of this scale to be spent over the period we are talking about should have customers involved from the start. Moreover, we are talking about big changes to their homes. So as well as all the work already going on to determine which heating system to use in which property and how to improve insulation, we need to engage customers in a conversation about why we are starting to invest in this area, to give customers a voice and ensure we start the journey together. 

It should be a win win. Broadacres consulted on their corporate strategy in 2018 and amongst other things customers said they wanted warm homes. They talked about having to go to bed early in winter because it was the warmest place in the house. Broadacres have since instigated a heating replacement programme including installing over 140 air source heat pumps, and have two staff employed to help customers get the most out of the new systems. Linked to that process, one customer said that there was no point installing a new heating system, as they wouldn’t switch it on because all the heat just went out though the poorly insulated walls. Broadacres responded by pulling forward investment in improved insulation and new doors and windows. The result – energy efficient houses and happy customers.

In the same way that we are working together as a sector to establish the technological solutions to the green agenda, we have to work together and with our customers if we are to succeed. This is something PlaceShapers will be exploring as we develop our work for the coming years. This is also why we are proud to be part of a broad coalition supporting the Homes at the Heart campaign and demonstrating how social housing is at the heart of a greener country. PlaceShapers Board meets in September to agree our priorities over the next 12-18 months. Based on feedback so far, this area is likely to be one of the priorities.