How one Welsh housing association is reducing its carbon footprint, one step at a time

(6 minute read)

In the first This is Housing blog, we focus on the work Valleys to Coast are doing to reduce their impact on the environment. From innovative new techniques to a call to action for their own staff, they are tackling the issue head-on and working with other housing associations and house builders to make this a reality. 

Valleys to Coast housing association is perhaps perfectly positioned to take advantage of the potential of renewable energy and play its part in reducing its impact on the environment. Darrin Davies, Corporate Director of Development and Growth explains:

“Bridgend in South Wales, benefits from steep mountains inland to the north and sweeping blustery coastline to the South. Like many of the associations that formed from the transfer of Council housing stock, however, we have the challenge of upgrading older homes to be fit for this new carbon-free future.

“It’s a big task and one that we can’t take lightly. We don’t have the funds to just knock down and rebuild and after all these are people’s homes. What we are looking at now is how we can successfully retro-fit some of our older properties to get them up to standard.

“To help us achieve this we are now leading on the development of an innovative pan-Wales procurement framework designed to reduce carbon emissions across the country and establish a new retro-fit industry for Wales. 

“This new framework forms part of an almost £20 million, Welsh Government backed, Optimised Retrofit Programme that will see a consortium of housing associations and Councils work on projects that will help upgrade at least 1,000 existing social homes in Wales through a mixture of new energy efficient materials and technologies.

“For Valleys to Coast customers in Bridgend, this will mean an initial investment in around 100 homes that will benefit from energy improvement works that will help reduce their bills as well as improve energy efficiency measures to the homes such as external wall insulation and new windows. 

“This is an exciting opportunity for us and the partners involved in this consortium to play a big role in making Wales greener. We will learn a lot from this in the coming years and it speaks volumes of the strength of the Welsh housing sector that we are able to work together to tackle this issue and ensure that the advantages of this investment are felt locally. 

“But the advantages have to be felt by our customers too. Rising bills are a problem for tenants and fuel poverty, especially with the added pressures of the pandemic, is very real. Our aim has to be to have one eye on that long term target for sure, but always it has to make our homes more affordable for customers too.

“One area where we are already realising this, is in the building of new homes that are cheap to run. Sitting atop a hill in North Cornelly with sea views, sit four new eco homes that would look just as at home off the slopes in Val d’Isere. These ‘Barnhaus’ homes are constructed with a combination of steel and timber frames and can be put up in a single day. The new ‘Ski-lodge-style’ properties also use straw bales and recycled materials for insulation, as well as using roof-mounted solar panels to reduce electrical usage.

 

“As part of the pilot we will be working with Cardiff University and the Welsh Government to monitor the energy efficiency of the properties with sensors installed in each of the four homes. With an EPC rating of A+ they are expected to not only provide lasting warmth and comfort to residents but also to help offer some solutions to help tackle fuel poverty within the social housing sector too.

Next up is another innovative development that will see new homes built on wasteland in Old Cornelly, this time the construction is expected to take just four months and will be a first for social housing in Wales with the use of structural insulated panels or SIPs as they are known, being used and also a factory being set up too to help mass produce the panels for the Welsh market. 

“These are just the sort of projects which are going to help us meet our goals, we have to think differently to make that happen. Building a house with the aim of it standing for hundreds of years might not be the answer, whereas building homes that are cheap to run, adaptable and can be recycled afterwards might be a more sustainable alternative.

“Closer to home we are also looking at ways that our workforce can deliver services with little impact on the environment, and we will soon launch a new internal campaign to help colleagues cut their own carbon use.” 

David Chard, Safety, Health & Environmental Manager adds:

“Becoming a more environmentally responsible and sustainable organisation also requires us to focus holistically on the way we operate all parts of our organisation, not just our homes.  We have to practice what we preach and have therefore accelerated mapping our carbon footprint and developing a new environmental and sustainability strategy with the help of The Carbon Trust and Cynnal Cymru.

“We recognise that it’s important for all of our colleagues to be involved in this, contribute ideas and take responsibility if we are to work more sustainably in 2021 and beyond.  We will be focussing on four key themes which are decarbonisation, circular economy, biodiversity and climate change adaptation.

“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.

“For Valleys to Coast now is the time to make waves and use the prevailing head wind to take this momentum forward. Like every association across Wales it will be a long journey, but we are getting there, step-by-step.” 

Valleys to Coast is a not for profit organisation who provide and manage 5,835 homes across Bridgend, South Wales;

You can find out more about them by visiting their website at www.v2c.org.uk