Community group points the way to warm up Manchester homes

by Blog

A summary of the report can be found here and the full report here.


Press release


A Manchester community energy group has pioneered a way of supporting homeowners to invest in making their homes warmer and more comfortable – while reducing their energy use by around half, in line with Greater Manchester’s climate goals.

‘Powering Down Together’, the report of Carbon Co-op’s Community Green Deal is published this week to coincide with Community Energy Fortnight. It reports on the retrofit of 12 owner-occupied solid-walled homes typical of Manchester’s housing stock. By upgrading the fabric of homes and adding PV panels, cuts of 40-60% or more were made in both energy consumption and emissions, at a level of capital spending that homeowners were willing and able to invest.
Greater Manchester’s new mayor Andy Burnham has said he aims to cut the city region’s emissions by 48% by 2020 – which will require thousands of home retrofits. By combining individual advice and shared action, the “Community Green Deal” has shown a way for these goals to be achieved, says the project team.

As well as dramatically reduced energy bills, homeowners who participated in the project say:

  • Their homes are warmer, including first thing in the morning.
  • They feel less damp and the air feels fresher.
  • Homes are less draughty.
  • Homes are cooler in summer when it’s hot.

Customer research showed that the project’s success resulted from the combination of a community base with expert technical advice and supervision, along with a modest financial incentive (in this case a zero-interest loan).

By bringing a group of householders and their homes together under one umbrella, important elements such as site crew training and the detailing of insulation installation could be shared, while specifications were individualised to each home in line with the needs of the building and the wishes of the owners.

This combination gave customers the confidence to invest, and enabled them to transform the performance of their homes.

Community Green Deal co-ordinator Jonathan Atkinson argues that national retrofit assistance needs to be re-thought to put householders, not abstract targets, at the centre of the process:

“In the wake of a number of failed retrofit programmes such as the Green Deal, the need for property- and occupant-specific designs, for training of site teams, and for hands-on contract oversight is coming to the fore.

“The need for increased design input, training and supervision in retrofit was also highlighted in the Bonfield, Review (published last December) – the Community Green Deal anticipated a number of the Review’s recommendations on quality assurance and customer care.", Jonathan Atkinson adds.

“The Bonfield Review said there have been too many instances of poor quality installations by companies ‘who do not have the skills, quality levels or core values required to operate responsibly in this market’, and that ‘advice has been inconsistent and fails adequately to take account of property-specific details’.

“Given the right support, many owner occupiers are willing to largely self-fund this level of retrofit. Householders invested enough in their homes to make a dramatic difference – a long way beyond just the one or two measures installed under a typical Green Deal or ECO intervention.

“Effective ‘deep’ retrofit is something the market has struggled to deliver. By contrast we were able to show that a collective approach combined with individualised advice and supervision led to our programme being oversubscribed."

Atkinson believes that more effective support for retrofit, for both able-to-pay and more vulnerable occupants, is urgently needed. “The success of the Community Green Deal shows that the obstacles are political and administrative, not technical, nor necessarily financial.

“Expansion of a programme like this could create hundreds of jobs3 and would enable the city to reach its carbon goals while residents enjoy the luxury of comfortable, cheap-to-run homes.”


For more information contact:
Jonathan Atkinson,, 0782 861 7933



Carbon Co-op is a community benefit society, based in Manchester, established to assist its members in making large scale reductions in their domestic energy consumption. URBED is a sustainable building and neighbourhood design consultancy, run as a worker co-operative.

Community Green Deal was a home retrofit project run by Carbon Co-op working in partnership with design consultancy URBED. 12 homes were retrofitted as part of the project – retrofits on another 50 have been completed or are in progress, inspired by the project.

Households participating in the Community Green Deal all installed a range of measures, including external and internal insulation, triple-glazed replacement windows, loft and floor insulation or insulation top-ups, and where necessary, ventilation systems. Homes all installed photovoltaic panels to help reduce their own electricity bills, and to displace fossil fuel emissions thereby cutting carbon.
Community Green Deal ran from 2013 to 2015.  The project was part of a larger programme under the umbrella of AGMA (Association of Greater Manchester Authorities), which received funding from DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) as part of the ‘ECO Go Early’ programme to pilot approaches to home energy retrofit, in advance of the Green Deal and ECO (Energy Company Obligation) programmes.

ECO (Energy Company Obligation) is grant funding made available from energy companies to top up the costs of domestic retrofit, and in its early stages there was a focus on solid wall insulation. The ECO has now been re-designed to prioritise households in fuel poverty (there is little other help available for these households). This means there is now next to no financial assistance available for owner-occupiers who could afford to retrofit, but are nonetheless more likely to act with a modest financial incentive.

Mayor Andy Burnham has unveiled a £21m European Regional Development fund as part of plans to make Greater Manchester a world-leading green city-region.

“The European Regional Development money will be used to fund innovative projects that demonstrate their ability to reduce carbon emissions year on year. It is part of ambitions to cut carbon emissions and create low carbon homes, businesses and infrastructure.  The Sustainable Urban Development plan will put into action some of the aims from the Greater Manchester Climate Change and Low Emissions Implementation Plan. The Implementation Plan was created in 2016 and builds upon the aims of the Greater Manchester Climate Change Strategy from 2012. Amongst the plans’ proposals is the aim to reduce carbon emissions by 48% by 2020, prioritise reducing carbon energy within homes, buildings and transport, and to create a low carbon economy.”

The Bonfield Review – “Each Home Counts: An Independent Review of Consumer Advice, Protection, Standards and Enforcement for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy”  was published in December 2016.

The Bonfield Review’s brief was to focus on consumer protection mechanisms, but it highlighted a number of issues with the government’s Green Deal and ECO schemes, including lack of information and advice, lack of quality control, and a relentless focus on cost-cutting which had led to cornere being cut. Even before the Grenfell disaster, the Bonfield Review was pointing to other retrofit schemes that had led to adverse consequences, though mercifully not on the scale of the Grenfell fire. Observations included:

  • “The need to reduce assessment costs has… damaged quality, as shown in the Green Deal Mystery Shopper research14. Often assessments do not consider fully the suitability of a particular measure for an individual property when making recommendations, or take into account the interaction of the proposed measure with the building or existing measures.”

Recommendations included:

  • All retrofit projects will have an appropriate design stage process which takes a holistic approach and adequately considers the home, its local environment, heritage, occupancy, and the householders’ improvement objectives when determining suitable measures.
  • Under the Framework [the standards framework proposed by the Bonfield Review], every retrofit project will have a single contract carrying the overall design responsibility.

‘Touching the Voids’, a report on research carried out by the not-for-profit Sustainable Homes into the relative financial performance of social housing units in relation to their energy efficiency rating,  indicated that the most energy efficient properties suffered far fewer rent arrears and lower void rates, than did the inefficient properties. Touching the Voids Sustainable Homes