Housing Digital talks with Darrin Davies, Corporate Director of Development and Growth at Valleys to Coast, to learn more about how they’re leading the way for sustainable housing in Wales
What prompted V2C’s commitment to sustainability?
The Environment (Wales) Act is certainly a starting point for us. It sets out how Wales is becoming a more environmentally friendly place to live and how we can do more to protect our natural resources. We do keep an eye on the international movement, but more locally here in Bridgend, our driver is living up to the principles of the Act.
From this, we have been able to grow our commitment and build into our Corporate Plan big goals such as being carbon neutral by 2030 and providing good quality, affordable housing for our customers.
When we talk about affordable homes, that is not just the rent and service charges, but also how much they cost to run. We are always looking at ways in which we can reduce these costs and make people less fuel poor.
What sustainability projects are you looking to launch in 2021?
This year, we have kicked off a partnership with Cynnal Cymru and the Carbon Trust, who are helping us develop a new environmental improvement plan.
The first step is to determine our current carbon footprint, and then we will move to developing a cross-organisational team under the banner of our ‘Cut Your Carbon’ campaign, and use them to help us identify ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprint. Putting staff at the heart of this will really allow us to identify those hidden gems that will make a big impact.
“We are always looking at ways in which we can reduce costs and make people less fuel poor”
At the same time, we are also working toward outlining the specification of how we reduce the carbon in customers’ homes; and we are devising a plan for the next 10 years to do this, where we will look to retrofit older stock and ensure our new-builds are built to a future-proof standard.
One example is our new development at Fford yr Eglwys, which will use modern construction techniques and, for the first time in Welsh social housing, SIPs panels to give us a high EPC rating and low running costs. Moving beyond just bricks and mortar developments is key for us as we experiment with new approaches.
Finally for us, and it’s a big one, is that we will lead on setting up the procurement frameworks for an all-wales optimised retrofit consortium. This will be open to all housing associations across Wales and will go some way toward creating a viable retrofit industry.
The Welsh government’s procurement framework is heavily focused on sustainability. What does your role in this involve, and how do you aim to achieve your goals?
Success for this would be a well-used framework that goes some way toward creating a retrofit industry here in Wales, supports the foundational economy, and creates jobs.
What is the Green Dragon Environmental Standard, and what does it mean to achieve a Level 3 accreditation?
We are very pleased to have retained the Level 3 standard in what has been a tough year with the pandemic. Going forward, we want to look at new ways that we can decrease our carbon emissions as a business, both within offices and home-working environments and, of course, our customers’ homes.
“We want to do so much more now, and move that knowledge from just a handful of experts to an organisation where we all walk the walk when it comes to sustainability”Darrin Davies
The standard at Level 3 moves us away from just gaining an understanding of our impact and towards taking actions to reduce this impact. Once we achieved this, we felt like we needed a step change and to take things up a gear, which is where we started our work with Cynnal Cymru and the Carbon Trust.
Green Dragon has been a great springboard for us to become more carbon literate, but we want to do so much more now, and move that knowledge from just a handful of experts to an organisation where we all walk the walk when it comes to sustainability.
Can you tell us a bit about the Barnhaus eco-homes you built in partnership with Pentan Architects?
The Barnhaus project was one of those projects that we just had to be involved in. The Pentan design itself had won the Grand Designs Self-Build on a Shoestring competition a few years back, and fitted well with our ambitions to innovate and change perceptions about what social housing could look like.
From the outside they look like ski chalets, but it was the inside of them which got us excited. The walls are filled with straw bales and recycled materials for insulation, and we even added solar energy too. It means that, for residents, thee homes are super cheap to run, warm in the winter, and cool in the summer.
Our upcoming project at Ffordd yr Eglwys operates on similar principles. Less expensive to build, quicker to construct, and cheaper to heat. What is important about both these projects is that we are learning so much about how we can reduce our impact on the environment, lessons we can take into the future of both new-builds and retrofits.
What initiatives do you run within V2C to try and effect a reduction in carbon emissions and improve sustainability?
Closer to home, we are also looking at ways that our workforce can deliver services with little impact on the environment and will soon be launching a new internal campaign to help colleagues cut their own carbon use.
‘Cut your Carbon’ is being rolled out to staff in January and will remain open indefinitely to allow colleagues to suggest ways in which we can become more sustainable.
There is so much power for us in tapping into the knowledge of our teams. They are the ones out there on the frontline who can spot waste, so their feedback is going to be vital in helping us move toward our target for 2030.
There is no more time for denial or delay, so we must cease the opportunity today. We can’t rely on others to do this for us; we need to be the change we wish to see and, as a Welsh social housing association, we must make a significant contribution to meeting local and global targets, as well as setting an example to others. Hopefully, ‘Cut Your Carbon’ will be the key to unlock a lot of this.
More from the Sustainability Showcase series:
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