Embracing collaborative action: insights from the International Retrofit Conference

The three host of the recent inaugural International Retrofit Conference, Caitriona Jordan, Head of Retrofit at Built Environment Smarter Transformation (BE-ST), Sara Edmonds, Head of Citizen Engagement at BE-ST, and Co-Director of the National Retrofit Hub (NRH), and Rachael Owens, Co-Director of NRH, share their thoughts with us.

Highlights from the recent Glasgow conference dedicated to tackling UK retrofit at scale.

As the three hosts of the conference, we had a front row seat to the conversations and ideas coming to the surface during the day. The gathering of over 300 delegates, 30 exhibitors, and a full roster of expert speakers created a platform where the exact spirit of collaboration and wave of actionable insights and partnerships we had hoped for were borne out.

From the thought-provoking keynote by Smith Mordak, CEO of UK Green Building Council exploring the balancing act between technology and human-need in our journey to retrofit, to the invaluable perspectives shared by Robert Deegan, Principal Officer of Residential Energy Efficiency at the Government of Ireland about how they are achieving retrofit, to name just a few — the day was a canvas for insights, ideas, and actionable strategies.

Capturing the action

At the heart of the International Retrofit Conference lay the core mission of BE-ST and the National Retrofit Hub — to spotlight the strides we, as members of a broad coalition of stakeholders, are making in retrofit. As Sara put it: “The biggest impact of the day was the fact that we saw collaborations being built between audience members, speakers, and exhibitors happening in real time. People were asking to bring projects to each other, and opportunities were opening up right in front of our eyes.”

Rachael shared: “The conference provided the perfect conditions for diverse groups, from national skills agencies to local community groups, to come together and collaborate around skills development. For example, the commitment to collaborate was illustrated by the workshop with BE-ST, the NRH, John Gilbert Architects, North East Scotland retroFIT (Nesfit), People Powered Retrofit, and our neighbours across the sea, the Sustainable Energy Association of Ireland. These organisations were all sharing knowledge around skills development models and offering invitations to learn from each other and to collaborate in so many forms.”

Sowing the seeds for collaboration

Caitriona encapsulated the day, remarking: “The most exciting part of the conference for me was seeing that the people who came were motivated to act — many even while they were still in the room. There was a sense that people were leaving wanting to do something and work together, and we’ve been hearing of potential collaborations and projects that have arisen since the event”.

The conversations during the conference meant that some attendees were also able to take their first steps towards collaborating. Net Zero Neighbourhoods, for example, made significant strides through dialogues they were able to have with local authority delegates which have led to a commitment to work together in building the case for decarbonising at a neighbourhood scale.

Dr. Emma Morton, keynote from the Summit Day, and Assistant Group Manager (Policy & Strategy) for the Sustainability Team at Glasgow City Council, agreed: “This is exactly the kind of collaborative innovation we need to motivate change.”

A call for sustained action

The resonance of the International Retrofit Conference lies not only in the discussions had throughout the event but also in the sparks it ignited and the plans it inspired. We believe that at the conference, we moved beyond talk and buzzwords and into a space where tangible learning and decisions that can drive transformative change could take place. The conference was not just about a day of insightful discussions, it became a launchpad for a sustained, collective efforts.

The sentiment from the International Retrofit Conference is clear: the impetus for change lies in collaborative action. As hosts, we’re thrilled to witness the seeds of collaboration sown during the conference, knowing they will grow into real, impactful change for retrofit in the UK and beyond, as well as bearing witness to projects and relationships that had been building for quite some time becoming bigger and bolder, with greater honesty and ambition at their core.

But we need to make sure the journey doesn’t end here. This conference needs to not just be a moment in time but a catalyst for an ongoing collaborative journey. Together, we’ve taken the first steps towards a future where collective action and collaboration drive meaningful change.

Let’s continue this journey, taking the momentum gained at the conference and transforming our aspirations into reality.

The International Retrofit Conference took place as part of BE-ST Fest – a two-day festival focused on how to achieve a zero carbon built environment. You can find out more about the 2023 Conference and plans for next year’s conference here: