Having a warm comfortable home is central to our health and wellbeing. Low and zero carbon homes, whether new builds or retrofitted, may bring even greater health, wellbeing, and financial benefits to occupants. Yet, creating low carbon homes may also have wider benefits to the local community, economy, and infrastructure. The Healthy Living in Low Carbon homes team is exploring these wider societal impacts.

Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a way of measuring impact which goes beyond the economic benefits and considers the social, and environmental benefits of an intervention (retrofitting homes in this instance), alongside the economic. It provides a framework for measuring the ‘value’ of the intervention to the people who experience the change (the stakeholders) and gives it a monetary value.

A core element of SROI analysis is the involvement of stakeholders. To aid this we have been working with several people to help us identify which stakeholders may be affected and how – either positively or negatively.

Bringing it all together

We wanted to understand how to capture and measure the ‘value’ of retrofitting homes from a range of different perspectives. We brought together representatives from key groups, including:

  • Tenant associations
  • National Energy Action (NEA)
  • Care and Repair (C&R-Cymru)
  • Practicing architects
  • Older adults, specifically with a background or interest in social housing

This wonderful cohort of volunteers have shared useful experiences and provided us some additional important areas to consider within our SROI.

People may be key

The group worked with our team to identify some of the key stakeholders who need to be engaged in the analysis. Those identified included:

  • Tenants, as the main intended beneficiaries, but also highlighted as those most likely to be negatively impacted if things didn’t go to plan
  • Local health services
  • Construction industry including contractors and sub-contractors
  • Registered Social Landlords (RSL)
  • Local authorities
  • Wider local communities

This broad spectrum of groups demonstrates just how wide the impact of low and zero carbon homes can be on communities and society.

Home improvements for living well

We have known for decades about the links between good quality homes and improved health and wellbeing. We know there are people currently struggling in poor quality, damp, cold homes (NEA). We also know that this impacts on all aspects of life, including health, education, finances.

Direct and indirect benefits of home improvements and energy savings may include improved mental and physical health for tenants with associated savings for health services. Home energy efficiency improvements can also effectively increase tenants’ incomes, boost local spending, improve neighbourhoods, and support community cohesion. Maintaining homes, facilitating comfort and pride in them can often offer huge benefits, for example our C&R Cymru representative shared his experience of ‘Boilers on prescription’ that resulted in reduced reported visits to GPs.

Not without concern

However, there were tenant concerns raised about previous experiences with ‘rogue traders’, while some were concerned that as social housing tenants, they may be given the cheapest possible options, rather than having better quality options installed, and that they may be being provided with solutions that don’t actually meet their needs. Other concerns raised by the group were with smart technologies and new equipment. These will require information and assurances, and possibly education on the best ways to work with them to optimise in-home performance. Data privacy was also a real concern for some and is something that will need to be addressed as smart technologies become more commonplace in the home.

Who’s going to deliver?

The group talked about the current paucity of skilled workers within green technology and how investments from the Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP) are supporting social housing. While still early in the retrofit journey for many projects, the ORP is beginning to address this and lead to ‘social returns’ beyond the provision of homes and services. In Denbighshire, for example, the ORP investments have already helped several previously out-of-work people find long-term employment. However, this approach will need to be scaled if we are to overcome the current skills shortages.

The investments by housing associations, in terms of finance, tenant informational and practical support, may have an indirect impact on local economies too. This might be through sub-contracting retrofitting and maintenance programmes (including software) or, as is being trailed as part of the ORP, by supporting local procurement policies that provide skilled training and enhanced employment opportunities. In turn, this could increase the amount of money circulating in local economies and boosting real estate value. This provides wider benefits to the local community in terms of the local economy giving people money to spend on local services.

People are the key

Working with stakeholder groups in this way provides a valuable insight into the challenges we face on our journey towards decarbonisation, but they also provide solutions to some of those challenges. Indeed, several innovative ideas were proposed by the group on ways in which tenants can come together to look at solutions that would work effectively for them. This demonstrates the commitment, enthusiasm, and willingness to help with schemes – highlighting the importance of working closely with those likely to be most impacted by new developments in the housing sector.

Some described the disempowerment felt following previous imposed home adaptations. This is as opposed to being included in discussions and decisions that could actually enable them to support others in adopting new technologies and decarbonisation measures (peer support). Such peer support and community enablement could, in turn, improve skills, confidence, and social capital and deliver demonstrable social value. Empowering the community in this way adds value to the project but also paves the way for the inevitable, and greatly needed, wider roll-out of the decarbonisation programme in the UK.

Deborah Morgan is a senior researcher in the Centre for Innovative Ageing at Swansea University and has a background in social gerontology, sociology, and health and social care.