Retrofit for the Future was born out of the success of its predecessor the REECH project (Renewables and Energy Efficiency in Community Housing) and is also the product of a very successful collaborative steering group of local authorities, social housing providers and advocacy organisations operating under the name of Viridis.
The project will retrospectively fit low carbon solutions to homes to ensure they are fit for the future. This will be achieved by improving the thermal performance and energy efficiency of properties, along with support for residents to ensure that they understand and know how best to use the products and measures that have been installed in their homes. The aim of the scheme is to deliver improved thermal efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, reduce fuel poverty and improve the aesthetic look of the homes that are benefiting from the project. The innovative measures installed include external wall insulation (initially designed to speed up the installation via off site construction), installation of underfloor insulation using robots, with innovative monitoring by University members and much more.
Initially the Retrofit project had to be re-profiled following the Grenfell disaster and some delivery partners were forced to withdraw, others were forced to scale back their proposals in order to reallocate budgets to allow for emergency upgrades to fire precautions. However, a revised bid was approved allowing the project to progress under the management of Sefton Council working in collaboration with One Vision Housing, Magenta, Torus, and Liverpool John Moores University to deliver a variety of energy efficiency measures whilst also incorporating innovative technologies and monitoring techniques.
The project value upgrades are worth more than £5 million, to be made to the lowest performing social houses in the region and making a positive step towards the decarbonisation agenda. The project will improve energy efficiency for over 500 households across the Liverpool City Region whilst also contributing to the research into innovative technologies.
The scheme was the first of its kind to undertake a virtual audit conducted MHCLG and was praised for its methodical approach to record keeping. Due to the changes in working arrangements during the pandemic the project has had to adapt and reprofile the delivery timescales and finances on multiple occasions without the need for additional funding and retaining the original outputs.
The ERDF Retrofit for the future project followed on from the successful REECH project delivered by Sefton Council across the Liverpool City Region, which provided an opportunity to learn lessons at the outset.
As with many projects, we have encountered numerous problems that have threatened the delivery and compliance to the ERDF grant funding agreement that had to be managed. These included the COVID-19 pandemic, delivery timescales due to adverse weather conditions, significant structural deficiencies identified to the high-rise scheme, asbestos identification and management, supply chain availability and contractor liquidation. So perseverance and having project managers that can adapt, be innovative and respond to adversity is the first lesson learnt.
Budget management together with contingency planning are essential when dealing with large budgets and multiple innovative schemes that are new to the market. Procurement proved to be a key barrier to innovative technologies, despite an initial expression of interest, contractors were unwilling to take the risk of time bound contracts. Alternative designs and schemes were implemented and other forms of innovation were explored.
Accurate and concise record keeping is essential when managing a project over a number of years, in particular when there are staff changes amongst the various partners. Changes in personnel was a constant aspect throughout this project so managing the transitions with effective communication and supporting information is critical.