After making the top 10 of Housing Digital’s Top 30 Sustainable Housing Providers list, Raven Housing Trust’s Jo Hills and Alison Bennett share insight into how the organisation is doubling down on its commitment to becoming one of the most sustainable social landlords in the UK
Jo Hills, director of Assets and Services, Raven Housing ⬇️
How did Raven get started on its sustainability journey?
Raven is a relatively small housing association, but it has still been ahead of the curve in terms of prioritising sustainability.
Everyone across the organisation understands the importance and seriousness of the challenge facing us to achieve net-zero carbon, and whilst we appreciate it is vital to take urgent action, we have sought to do so through a thoughtful, measured, and strategic approach.
We completed our first Level 5 Code for Sustainable Homes and Lifetime Homes around 10 years ago, and we have also been investigating and implementing smart technology and the Internet of Things for around two years.
We started with pilots in communal areas and are now starting to install sensors in our homes that can provide us with vital information about our stock’s performance and flag any priority areas for retrofitting work.
Even prior to the government amending the Climate Change Act in 2019 to commit to net-zero by 2050, we were already making positive changes to reduce our organisation’s carbon footprint. We became one of the first housing providers to robustly assess our investment needs to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050.
⬇️ Alison Bennett, director of Development, Raven Housing
Your Chavecroft development has a strong focus on sustainability. What can you tell us about the scheme?
This will be Raven’s first net-zero carbon new-build development and one of the first in the sector. Chavecroft originally provided sheltered housing to older people but has not been used as such for several years because of outmoded bedsit accommodation.
We have recently been granted planning permission to demolish the existing building and provide 23 new homes, all for affordable housing and built to a highly energy-efficient and good-quality standard.
Whilst we are currently in the tender process to appoint a contractor, this development is likely to take the form of full volumetric construction or structural insulated panels (SIPs) and use of ground source heat pumps, in place of gas central heating.
We’ve pledged that all new-builds moving forwards will be built to net-zero standards, and we are awaiting planning permission for our second net-zero carbon new-build development in Lewes.
This is another brilliant project that demonstrates how old, derelict buildings can be regenerated into much-needed, energy efficient homes, as it will see the redevelopment of a former primary school – in an area where need for affordable homes is acute – to provide 32 brand-new affordable homes for local people.
What prompted your pledge for all new homes to be built to net-zero standards?
Our approach to net-zero carbon has been heavily driven and supported by our board. We are clear on our approach and have developed a robust design brief to support this, making not only our sustainability commitments clear, but how we want to work with our partners moving forward to achieve net-zero.
We believe building new homes that do not meet net-zero standards will only be disruptive to our residents further down the line.
Currently, we’re seeking a ‘fabric first’ approach on our new homes before considering the use of mechanical or electrical building services systems and installing low-carbon heating in preference to fossil-fuel heating.
“We believe building new homes that do not meet net-zero standards will only be disruptive to our residents further down the line”
However, upcoming changes to Building Regulations Part L and F, ‘The Future Homes Standard’, will require all new-build homes to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. These changes, alongside the government’s target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, will have a significant impact on Raven, and it would therefore be short-sighted of us to build new homes that do not meet net-zero standards.
As part of our strategy, we recognise that a lot of green buildings are still in their infancy and that decarbonising the grid, as well as the development of future technologies, means that there will likely be alternative measures we can implement with little disruption and cost to further improve the affordability, comfort, and efficiency of our homes for customers.
With this in mind, all our homes moving forward will be designed to easily accommodate any potential retrofit projects.
You have held a series of webinars looking at the net-zero journey. How successful were they?
Raven has become a clear sector leader on sustainability, with many now looking to us for inspiration and guidance, so we set up this opportunity to invite a number of specialist spokespeople to discuss the challenges around the journey to net-zero and highlight good practice.
More than 200 people signed up to attend our webinars, with more than half of those attending two or all three of the sessions.
In addition to attracting existing stakeholders, registrants for the webinar series included housing providers and bodies, local authorities, construction companies, and architects.
Taking this approach not only allowed us to widen our network of people to engage with about achieving net-zero but it also stimulated a lot of discussion and debate around how as a sector we can collaborate and address the challenge together.
In what ways are you involving residents in your push for sustainability?
We surveyed 300 customers, using their feedback to shape our approach when drawing up our Environmental Sustainability Strategy.
In addition to listening to our own customers, as a director of PlaceShapers, our chief executive is leading the group’s joint project with Tpas to explore how social landlords can take residents on their net-zero carbon journey. This involved engaging with 100 residents across the UK, including Raven customers, through online ‘roundtable’ discussions.
“When it comes to taking action to tackle the climate crisis, Raven has demonstrated that it is not afraid to put its head above the parapet”
In terms of engaging existing residents about any retrofit works, this has varied for each project. For example, we involved our residents for a retrofit project in Epsom at the earliest possible time. We explained our plans and the benefits the works would have to them, communicated with them daily throughout delivery, and as part of the ongoing engagement, we also installed monitoring systems to see how well residents have adapted to the new technologies in their homes to give us greater insight.
As an organisation, you have been shortlisted for and won several awards for your approach to sustainability. How important is it to be recognised for your work in this area?
When it comes to taking action to tackle the climate crisis, Raven has demonstrated more than once that it is a housing association not afraid to put its head above the parapet.
True sustainability is all-encompassing and being recognised for our work, is a testament to our genuine commitment to overcoming the challenges facing us to achieve net-zero and to provide a voice for the sector.
What sustainability initiatives are you looking to launch in the future?
We have ambitious plans to expand our delivery over the next five years and are exploring government funding options, as well as building partnerships with our peers. We’re investigating procurement options to ensure we gain best value from suppliers.
But further to this we are also discussing, in conjunction with our suppliers, how we can invest in staff skills and work with local colleges to develop the skills needed to install new renewable energy technologies.
Raven Housing Trust is a not-for-profit Registered Housing Provider managing around 7,000 rented and shared ownership homes in Surrey and Sussex.
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