Pioneering Essex County Council Partnership Sets the Standard for Residential Retrofit at Scale
The government’s pressing energy and decarbonisation targets mean that social housing providers around the country are being tasked with the energy efficient upgrade of their residential building stock as they look to contribute to these climate goals while minimising fuel poverty.
One such local authority, Essex County Council, seized the initiative in order to upgrade the energy performance of its social housing portfolio through a successful bid of government funding and a pioneering partnership with The Retrofit Academy, a leading workforce development specialist. It would go on to deliver a string of positive improvements for the region’s retrofit workforce as well as multiple industry award wins.
With over 422,000 of its homes deemed to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or below, Essex County Council recognised that retrofitting properties with energy efficiency measures would be a task that needed delivering at scale. The professionals qualified to do so in the region were in short supply, however, with just one accredited Retrofit Coordinator and nine accredited Retrofit Assessors to speak of across the entire county.
Recognising the pressing need to develop the local workforce required to carry out quality remedial works at scale, Essex County Council engaged The Retrofit Academy in a partnership with the aim of delivering innovative and pioneering solutions. A successful bid saw the partnership awarded £703,000 from the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund (CRF) to embark on a project called the Harlow and Tendring Retrofit Pipeline for Economic Renewal. This would not only upgrade the energy performance of housing stock in the region but would also improve socio-economic outcomes for residents in Harlow and Tendring: two of the most deprived boroughs in the country.
From the outset, it was recognised that training alone would not increase the growth of retrofit skills and qualifications sufficiently. With sights firmly set on the long-term delivery of retrofit qualifications for the people of Essex, the project saw organisational development, business support, research and knowledge sharing, the formulation of new qualifications, and the establishment of a franchised training provider implemented simultaneously.
As David Pierpoint, Chief Executive at The Retrofit Academy, explains, collaborative working was key to the partnership’s ability to make a tangible impact quickly:
“The Council’s understanding of its communities, residents, businesses and hands-on local leadership made sure the project was high priority for a raft of local stakeholders. This paved the way for us to use our in-depth knowledge of the retrofit arena to deliver meaningful insight, training and business support. Ultimately, bringing the two together allowed the partnership to deliver more than the sum of its parts, which was a huge positive.”
Challenges faced by the partnership were also overcome through close collaboration. An initially low uptake of courses from local residents saw Essex County Council amplify The Retrofit Academy’s own marketing campaign with hyper-local promotion through the media and networks such as community groups and libraries. The Retrofit Academy also quickly recognised that uptake in its Level 4 Award in Domestic Retrofit Assessment was low because of how few people nationally had the pre-requisite Domestic Energy Assessor qualification. To address this, the organisation partnered with a qualifications provider to offer a programme spanning both credentials.
The theme of close collaboration was also reflected in the variety of local partnerships forged to bring specialist expertise and experience to the project. Generation, an independent non-profit, were brought on board to deliver an employability bootcamp providing the opportunity for local residents to train as retrofit advisors and gain a job with a sponsoring employer. The Retrofit Academy also partnered with certification and assessment experts TradeEngine and the British Assessment Bureau to support local SMEs to gain PAS 2030 certification. Finally, the creation of The Retrofit Academy: Essex was a collaboration between the workforce development specialist and Essex County Council’s Adult and Community Learning team, which resulted in the establishment of a local provider trained and supported to deliver The Retrofit Academy’s courses, leaving a lasting legacy in the county.
Over 12 months, the partnership achieved the following:
- Equipped 248 Essex residents with the PAS 2035 qualification, ensuring they can assess domestic properties for energy retrofit.
- Of these, 17 unemployed people have accessed training, significantly increasing their employment prospects.
- An expected total of 138 individuals graduating with Retrofit Assessor or Retrofit Coordinator qualifications.
- Seen at least four individuals recruited into retrofit-specific jobs.
- Delivered Fit for Retrofit, an organisation-wide training course, to 42 individuals from 10 housing associations and local authorities.
- Supported 20 businesses in gaining their PAS 2030 certification so they can install, commission, and hand over energy efficiency measures in domestic retrofit projects.
- Aided 25 organisations’ understanding of retrofit through effective knowledge transfer.
- Established The Retrofit Academy: Essex as the UK’s first franchised domestic retrofit training provider.
The success of the partnership was also recognised in the form of two major industry awards. As well as landing the Collaboration of the year – knowledge building and research award at this year’s Unlock Net Zero Live Awards, Essex County Council also landed the Delivering Clean Growth award at the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) President’s Awards 2023.
Loretta Hoy, Green Sector Growth Manager at Essex County Council, said:
“The partnership between Essex County Council and The Retrofit Academy is developing a rich understanding of the state of domestic retrofit across Essex and is nurturing the retrofit supply chains servicing the county.
“This collaboration has established the nature of the demand for retrofit skills across the current workforce, looking at the barriers to employment for local people, current skills gaps and key employers with whom to engage. We continue to work in partnership with The Retrofit Academy to support the decarbonisation of the built environment, whilst harnessing Green Growth for the benefit of the local economy.”
David Pierpoint added:
“We recognise that it is only through effective partnerships that we can develop local workforces capable of delivering high-quality retrofit at scale, which was the guiding principle we applied to our work with Essex County Council. This broad, system-wide approach is unique and innovative, but is something we hope might pave the way for other social housing providers as they look to achieve energy efficiency and resident comfort in equal measure. By bringing multiple local partners together to pool their ambition, expertise and passion, we’ve been able to achieve real change.”