Talking training - back to school

It's been a year since we launched the Carbon Co-op home energy training programme, we've delivered eight new courses with 18 sessions delivered and over 150 people attending. It's had a huge impact on us and feedback suggests it's also had a huge impact on our members in terms of the scope and the scale of the retrofit works they've undertaken. To get a better feel for how participants have found the programme project coordinator Aneaka Kellay spoke with four different attendees exploring their retrofit journeys and how the courses they've attended have helped them. 

To get an idea of the impact of the courses I spoke at length to four different households – some have very recently joined Carbon Co-op, others are long time members and I learnt something very different from each interview.

Margaret and John have just bought a house in Anglesey, Sarah has recently moved to Levenshulme with her partner Nic, Tim is a carpenter from Nottingham and Phoebe is a retired cyclist, grandmother and peace activist from Stockport. All are at different stages of making energy efficiency improvements to their homes and have different motivations.

Margaret and John, a Trafford-based Vicar, have new home in a beautiful and exposed spot in Anglesey, North Wales. It's the place they will retire to and they're aware that to keep warm their energy bills will be high. As they grow old keeping warm and keeping outgoings low will be a priority, so they attended the 'Beginner's Guide to Retrofit' session to find out what's possible.

“Overall, I think both of us would say that it's given us a great sense of the house as a system and the principle involved, insulation, ventilation, lots of basic principles that we just didn't know about, that’s been enormously helpful...”

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Margaret Biddle

After attending 'Principles of Retrofit' Margaret found she was able to speak with their building surveyor with confidence:

“We have more questions but oh gosh, I know so much more than I did before. The surveyor came yesterday to look and I was able to say, I think you should have pointed these problems out before, because now we know these things.”

Sarah and Nic's Victorian terrace house in Levenshulme needs lots of work and they, like many others, are on a budget. Sarah mentioned that: “I found the first Routes to Retrofit training was a really good introduction to understanding the issues and theories around why its important to undertake energy efficiency measures to a high standard, how not understanding the theories and issues can cause problems (such as condensation), and it gave a good insight into the need to think carefully, do research and get advice.”

They attended 'DIY Retrofit for Homeowners' to get support to start doing work on their house themselves. While they found it useful they are still finding sourcing materials daunting. Despite this they have made a start on insulating their loft (see picture below). We will have a think about how to support members with materials specification.

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Sarah and Nic - Insulating Loft

Phoebe lives in a 1920s council house and has planned her retrofit over a number of years. She is a long time member and a real pioneer. She sees the work she is doing to improve her house as a part of a national project to improve the housing stock for future generations. “We're passing these houses on, I would go for retrofit rather than new build because this is the issue in this country, we do need to retrofit, and we are only going to learn from experience, somebody's got to be prepared to go ahead and do it.” Phoebe found it particularly useful to hear other participants speaking about their individual situations, “You get the facts, you get these graphs, but it is hearing peoples experience that builds on that.”

Tim is a carpenter and had previously done the odd insulation job. Aware of his knowledge gaps he decided to travel to Manchester for the three-day 'DIY Retrofit' course. It was great to hear how it'd helped him improve the quality of his work:

“It's definitely true that most builders don't understand one of the things that I perceive makes a real difference to insulation performance like airtightness, thermal bridging and all the rest of it. Jobs I've done in my own home have been OK but if I look at it now I would definitely do it quite differently.”

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Tim installing Internal Wall Insulation

While the courses have increased the knowledge, confidence and understanding of risks, they have their limitations. Margaret, Sarah and Phoebe have all attended multiple trainings and the costs do add up. For some this has been a real barrier. However as Margaret and John unfortunately discovered:

“you can make very expensive mistakes, not knowing. Knowing now what I know about cavity wall insulation, I would have said [to the surveyor] cavity wall insulation here?… [There is] thousands of pounds worth of work we didn't know about.” 

Based on this feedback we are looking into creating a fairer pricing structure for the 2019 training programme, including discounts when more than one person from a household attends. It's also worth remembering that we offer a bursary for all of our trainings. Please get in touch for more information.

Alongside trainings we also run free monthly 'Retrofit MeetUps' for members to share information, we provide factsheets and run socials and info nights. We are also looking into ways to provide more information online and in training booklets. However due to the complex nature of retrofit, being able to speak with expert trainers is sometimes the best way to share information.

Frustratingly for some the seminar's aren't the space to ask questions about specific house issues. Some commented that applying what's been learnt to individual cases at home is still a challenge and decision making is, as ever, tricky. Our best advice is to commission a My Home Energy Planner assessment or look for specific consultancy offered by our technical partners URBED. In Margaret's case, the report helped them realise that their focus should be on improving the floor, something that wasn't intuitive. Home assessments also incorporate a consultation with the assessor, please ask if you'd like to access this service.

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Overall it was good to hear that the programme has been useful to people seeking to retrofit. As commented on by Margaret below, shared values are really important, “It's been very helpful to have Carbon Co-op, we come on the courses but you're not trying to sell us a heat pump. You know, you're not trying to sell us cavity wall insulation, and I think that's really helpful. So the independence, the Carbon Co-op are clear about its mission, as indeed are we, we want to reduce our carbon, we are very keen, one of our big motivations, so you think you're talking with people who share your outlook and aren't trying to sell you something.”

This autumn we are running another set of trainings: ones to watch out for are 'Beginners Guide to Retrofit', which is free to attend on 12th September, 'Routes to Retrofit' taking place on 6th and 13th October and 'DIY Retrofit for Homeowners' over 10th, 11th and 24th November. Remember that you can access Early Bird tickets up to a month before. Visit carbon.coop/training for more information.

We are also hosting a Green Open Home Weekend 29th and 30th September to give you a chance to visit and be inspired by eco-homes in Greater Manchester.  Visit carboncoop.greenopenhomes.net for more.

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