Building Momentum: The National Retrofit Hub’s Vision for a Sustainable Future

Building Momentum: The National Retrofit Hub’s Vision for a Sustainable Future
Rachel Owens - Co-Director National Retrofit Hub at UKREiiF

Engaging the Sector at UKREiiF

We met Rachel Owens, Co-Director of the National Retrofit Hub, when she attended the United Kingdoms Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREiiF) in Leeds. This forum provided a unique opportunity for her to engage with a broad audience, ranging from energy experts to local authorities, and to discuss the critical role of retrofit in the built environment.

Rachel was participating in seminars and panels at the event too!

With an extensive network of 1600 retrofit stakeholders, the event allowed Rachel to see how different pieces of the industry puzzle can come together to form a cohesive strategy for the future.

We managed to get her to take a break from her busy itinerary for a catch up;

Rising Interest and Critical Concerns

Why Retrofit is Gaining Attention

The increasing interest in retrofit stems from a recognition of its potential to address multiple crises simultaneously i.e. healthier homes mean healthier people, reducing the burden on the NHS.

Efficient homes could significantly reduce the demand on the resources of the UK power grid. And less energy being expended is going to reduce the carbon footprint of UK housing stock. Professionals in retrofit know this.

However. There is a significant skills gap in the retrofit industry, with an estimated need for 86,000 new workers annually, particularly for historic buildings.

According to Rachel, this shortage is coupled with a need to improve job quality, diversity, and equity in the sector.

Small builders, who are frequently asked about energy efficiency by homeowners (60% says Rachel in her interview), face barriers to training due to busy schedules and a lack of incentives.

To tackle these issues, Rachel and the National Retrofit Hub (see at the bottom for more info) advocates for local retrofit skills plans that support SMEs and school leavers, inspired by successful initiatives like Ireland's mobile training rigs that make retrofit careers more visible and exciting.

The Irish Government Launches Retrofit Training Trailer Rigs

Concerns About Support for Retrofit

Retrofit requires substantial support, both from policy and community perspectives.

The National Retrofit Hub was established to address barriers proactively rather than waiting for government policies to catch up.

Rachel emphasizes the importance of a unified voice advocating for industry needs, such as increased energy efficiency standards and support for community groups like Retrofit Balsall Heath. She calls for more media coverage and faster implementation of government schemes to expand the perception and scale of retrofit efforts.

Components and Activities of the National Retrofit Hub

The National Retrofit Hub operates through six working groups, each addressing a vital aspect of the retrofit landscape:

  1. Working Group 1 - WARM, HEALTHY NET ZERO : Focuses on utilizing data to inform retrofit decisions at scale and embedding quality assurance across projects.
  2. Working Group 2 - SUPPLY CHAIN, PRODUCTS & SOLUTIONS : Aims to foster innovation and uptake of non-traditional products, addressing supply chain uncertainties.
  3. Working Group 3 - WORKFORCE GROWTH
    : Dedicated to defining and improving career paths, bringing more people into the industry.
  4. Working Group 4 - FINANCE : Explores financing models to support various stakeholders, including those not covered by government funding, with active engagement from banks.
  5. Working Group 5 - DELIVERY APPROACHES : Analyzes different delivery models and international examples to enhance local retrofit strategies.
  6. Working Group 6 - DRIVING UPTAKE : Seeks to improve public perception of retrofit, connecting home performance with bills and health to drive demand.

Improving the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) and Future Outlook

Enhancing the SHDF

The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) has been instrumental in accelerating retrofit in social housing, yet it faces challenges. Rachel points out unrealistic spending timelines - which she suggests need extending - and rigid funding requirements as significant issues.

Local authorities have struggled to meet the financial distribution requirements, leading to unspent funds actually being returned to central government.

She suggests extending spending periods and offering more flexibility to adjust project scopes as design progresses, aligning funding mechanisms with typical construction project timelines.

Looking Ahead: The National Retrofit Hub’s Vision for 2024-2025

As we move into 2024-2025, the National Retrofit Hub remains optimistic about the sector’s growth and its role in the UK’s levelling up agenda. The focus will be on creating local skills and quality jobs, ensuring holistic home improvements, and maintaining high standards of quality assurance.

Rachel underscores the importance of continuous up skilling and training for long-term resilience in the construction sector, highlighting the vast pipeline of retrofit work anticipated over the next few decades.

Empowering regions: National Retrofit Hub launches essential resource. - National Retrofit Hub
Regional Retrofit Skills Taskforce Checklist. As the drive towards achieving net zero emissions intensifies, the National Retrofit Hub (NRH) announces the release of its latest tool to support regional efforts: the Regional Retrofit Skills Taskforce Checklist. With the ambitious goal of retrofitting the nation’s homes to meet health, energy and…