Tackling ‘the biggest climate challenge facing our generation’

Retrofitting has been described as ‘the biggest climate challenge facing our generation’ with the UK finding itself at a ‘watershed moment’ in tackling it.

A look ahead to the first National Retrofit Conference.

With the first National Retrofit Conference launching this week, it certainly feels like momentum is building in the sector.

The dedicated retrofit conference is part of this year’s Futurebuild, taking place from March 5 to March 7 at ExCel London. It will bring together visionaries and industry leaders to focus on the crucial mission of decarbonising our housing stock.

Each of the three days will have its own theme:

  • Day 1 – Retrofit policy, programmes and leadership
  • Day 2 – Delivering the promise, how government and industry is rising to the challenge
  • Day 3 – Unblocking skills and unlocking innovation.

While the event is being curated by The Retrofit Academy, in partnership with Futurebuild, day three is being delivered by the National Retrofit Hub.

The Hub was established one year ago on March 1, 2023, to enable the delivery of the National Retrofit Strategy – a 20-year blueprint from the Construction Leadership Council setting out how the construction industry can work with government to retrofit the UK’s 28 million homes.

We managed to grab a quick 20-minute interview with the Hub’s co-director, Sara Edmonds, in what has been an incredibly busy few weeks for the non-profit organisation.

‘Willingness to come together is astounding’

Sara said: “It does feel like we are coming towards a tipping point in engagement; the willingness of people to come together is astounding. We have the biggest opportunity to bring about a just transition, but it’s no small feat, we can’t do it alone. It needs collaboration and co-ordination.

“We’re curating all of day three of the National Retrofit Conference and will be focusing on delivering value. We don’t believe in talking for talking’s sake. We want to deliver impactful change.”

And for Sara, that change doesn’t necessarily mean applying blanket solutions based on the grants available or installation targets. It’s about enabling the local delivery of retrofit at scale, but based on the needs of specific neighbourhoods and the individual homes within them.

“We are in the transition, we are transitioning right now, in our behaviours and our awareness,” Sara said. “But that doesn’t mean we all need to panic about suddenly covering our entire homes in insulation, putting panels all over the roof, getting rid of the boiler and installing a heat pump.

“It’s about the right solution in that given context, based on the most accurate data in a given place, and the needs of that place, that community. You could have two houses that look exactly the same but with differing needs based on the condition of the home and how well it’s been looked after.

“It could be a case of looking first at ventilation, or lowering the thermostat by a degree – it’s about small considered steps.

“We’re not saying we have all the answers, but we are here to look at the breadth of incredible work that’s happening across communities of people, whether contractors, designers, local authorities, installers, manufacturers etc, and how we stitch them together so their work has the greatest impact.”

As an architect, Sara has always been interested in existing buildings and how they shape people and communities, but she shifted focus after becoming more aware of the impact of the built environment on the climate.

“I learned a statistic that 20% of total UK emissions come from heating our homes. I started thinking about how we could share this information to help people make lasting changes. And we’re not meant to do it alone, we’re meant to do it in community. And the National Retrofit Hub is about bringing all those different communities together.”

National Retrofit Hub open meeting

The National Retrofit Conference follows on from the inaugural International Retrofit Conference in November and the National Retrofit Hub’s first open meeting of 2024 held in February. The latter brought together almost 400 industry professionals with the common goal of revolutionising the retrofit landscape.

The key objectives and outputs of the Hub’s six working groups were discussed, with leads from each presenting examples of ongoing initiatives, such as the development of a blueprint for retrofit information within building logbooks.

Sara added: “The ultimate goal is to be part of delivering thriving, resilient neighbourhoods and those neighbourhoods include all of us. This year is about continuing collaboration efforts and once conversations have been had, mapping the way forward, growing networks and working with partners to deliver practical tools.”

The National Retrofit Conference will make up a quarter of Futurebuild this year with a 200-seat arena, six seminar rooms, a packed programme of talks and dozens of exhibitors.

David Pierpoint, founder and CEO at The Retrofit Academy, said: “The timing of this conference couldn’t be more opportune. The urgency to address climate change has never been greater and the commitment of billions in funding by the Government has energised the industry.

“The National Retrofit Conference, co-located within Futurebuild 2024, will create a roadmap for retrofit that is clear, concise and collaborative, which is our primary goal. The conference will share best practice and give practical solutions that accelerate progress towards a greener and more sustainable future. Together, we will scale the ambition and deliver on our promise of a decarbonised built environment in the UK.”

The image shows National Retrofit Hub co-director Sara Edmonds.