South Somerset District Council: Retrofit in Rural Somerset and the Action Learning Sets

South Somerset District Council are embarking on a programme of retrofitting council properties and supporting the community to retrofit their homes to save money, carbon and increase comfort and wellbeing.

The challenge

South Somerset is a geographically large rural community with many homes that are hard to treat either because of their age, their location (as many are in conservation areas or listed), and any social housing is owned by social housing providers who are in the main embracing retrofit with support from Government grants. SSDC had managed to obtain a Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme grant but had to return most of it as the supply chain and cost was prohibitive when it came to the point of production procurement and installation contractor engagement.

The Council was also successful in a syndicate bid for the LADs1b funding to retrofit Park Homes across the county. This also highlighted the problems in engaging householders to take up the funding along with limited contractors and supply chains and being able to complete works to the PAS2035 standards required within the funding timescale. The question is how to engage with homeowners.

The solution

Engaging with the Action Learning Set for Retrofit enabled Cara Naden, Environment Specialist from South Somerset District Council, to discuss with the other councils and highlighted the barriers and possible solutions. For example, directly engaging with homeowners would help, but the availability of staff and their time is limited.

However through the discussions Cara identified a way they could add a highlighted message and web link in the tax bill receipt that goes to every home in the district directing them to the South Somerset Environment website with information, tips and signposting to solutions for energy efficiency, home improvements and available grants.

South Somerset have also purchased two thermal imaging camera attachments for smart phones and tablets. These are for Town and Parish Councils to borrow for their community to take thermal photos of their homes, to identify where they might benefit from improved insulation. This has been trialled in the area where a town council has employed a retrofit assessor/coordinator to engage with and produce whole house plans for the able to pay sector. Guidance sent with the thermal imaging cameras also signposts householders to the website and to the Centre for Sustainable Energy, who provide a free home energy advice service and are the conduit for many of the retrofit/home improvement grant applications. 

Cara now sits on the steering group for the Bruton Retrofit Project and the Somerset Retrofit Accelerator project. They are offering 50 discounted retrofit plans for households across Somerset, as well as 30 free places on the Future Fit retrofit training to upskill 30 Somerset businesses in supporting the roll out of retrofit works to homes in the area. This project will also produce a directory of local businesses working in delivering retrofit to homes, with open homes events for peer to peer learning to inspire other homeowners to embark on retrofitting their homes.

The impact

This is to be reviewed during and after the trials and projects. It is hoped that they, at the very least, stimulate improved insulation and ventilation and at best, upgrade heating to decarbonised solutions.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Collaboration is being strengthened within the district and beyond, and several of these joint projects will be strengthening further work and action on retrofit. Learnings and the retrofit directories will be recorded on a standalone website for developing further and stimulating more action.

Lessons learned

Collaboration both inside and outside of the council is key in giving momentum to retrofit action and communication to the community and coming up with innovative solutions to connect with home owners and contractors.