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Creating sustainable communities: a place-based approach to housing retrofitting

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Creating sustainable communities: a place-based approach to housing retrofitting

Local artists, schoolchildren and their families in Radford, members of Coventry City Council and University of Warwick researchers have teamed up for a unique project to explore what puts people off making their homes more energy efficient.

Dr Lory Barile from the Department of Economics at the University worked with creative partners and experts in Net Zero to develop a series of lessons and practical activities for pupils at St. Augustine’s Catholic Primary School, Radford.

The children carried out science experiments to test out the insulation properties of different materials and built models of houses showing what they could do to make their homes more energy efficient to provide affordable warmth whilst helping to tackle global warming.

Parents and guardians then attended a showcase of their children’s work and their model houses. This provided a relaxed forum to discuss how homes can be better insulated, and what help is available from Coventry council for local residents.

Dr Barile explained: “Coventry has one of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK. In some areas of the city half of the households are in fuel poverty – that is, they need to spend at least 10% of their household income on keeping warm.

“If we can find more effective ways of speaking with residents about retrofit measures, we will make a big contribution to the success of Coventry’s net zero agenda.”

The objective of the project was to increase awareness of retrofit measures – such as double-glazing or cavity wall insulation - and to understand barriers to engagement with schemes designed to improve residents’ house energy efficiency.

Dr Barlie explained: “My project uses elements of a method called design thinking, and engages children in creative and interactive activities to help kick-start conversations with Radford’s adult householders.

By embracing creativity, we hope that this pilot study will be a catalyst for change and inspire other residents in Coventry to increase their take up of government schemes aimed at creating healthy homes, reducing carbon emissions, energy bills, and fuel poverty.

“We also hope that the project will improve the way the council engages with the needs and aspirations of the local community.

“We are now working on creating an online teaching pack that all schools across the City will be able to use to raise the awareness of children and families about domestic energy efficiency.”

Bret Willers, Head of Sustainability & Climate Change at Coventry City Council said: “This pilot project has been very successful in raising people’s awareness as to how to better insulate their homes and how to access free funding to improve energy efficiency.

“We hope that this pilot will contribute to increase the take up of schemes available to households to meet the City’s commitment to tackling climate change and addressing fuel poverty.”

The workshops, facilitated by Warwick researchers, members of the Council, student ambassadors, teachers, and local artists, included an interactive workshop on energy conservation, 3D models of energy efficient homes, and a final celebratory event with adults engaged in discussions on barriers to housing retrofitting, where children’s work and learning was also showcased. Parents turnout was extremely high, highlighting the potential of using similar approaches to work with local communities and address the challenges of climate change.

The information gathered from these workshops has informed the development of a survey that has been distributed to all parents in the school and will guide future iterations of the methodology in areas of Coventry where engagement with retrofit measures is particularly low.

The survey is available here. Coventry residents are invited to fill it in and enter a draw for one of three £50 Love2shop vouchers.