Sunday, 1 December 2013

Talk : The Hyson Green Eco-House

Cafe Sci hosted a fascinating talk recently entitled "The Hyson Green Eco-House" and presented by Moby Farrands from the Partnership Council and Dr Amanda Smith who is a Senior Lecturer in International Studies at Nottingham Trent University. This post is based loosely on the contents of the talk, with some added reference material thrown in.

Combating Climage Change
With some 80% of climage change emissions being caused by cities, they have become a focus for efforts to reduce C02 emmissions. Not least because it is often hoped that the rich mix of creative people and the way they are always changing and developing will allow innovative solutions to develop.

However, "top down" solutions imposed or parachuted in from central government simply do not work in the current economic and social climate, with factors such as transient populations and the economic downturn making it hard for projects to gain traction.

Fortunately, government thinking has moved on and the current thinking is in terms of "community resilience" and also encouraging "community organising"

A Nottingham Citizens Event - It's where change happens.

The Partnership Council and Area 4
The Partnership Council works on a model that empowers local people to influence decision makers. You can read more about their work at They have noted that within Area 4 (which is a broad strip of the city running from New Basford in the north, through Hyson Green and down to the Park) there are some areas where there is a big fuel poverty issue, and where deprivation is severe even on a national scale.

The fact that much of the housing is rented and terraced effectively puts the homes outside of many of the available insulation or energy generation schemes (landlords not interested, grants not available to tenants, no gardens for heat pumps, roofs too small to install usual solar panel kits etc)

And yet the houses are some of the most in need to help to reduce fuel costs, as front doors often open straight into the living room, roof insulation levels are low and solid walls lose a great deal of heat.

And there are few, if any, resources available online that are applicable to houses such as these.

So The Partnership Council are working with local residents to develop energy reduction approaches that are either very cheap, or that the tenants can take with them when they leave.

Wollaton Park, Nottingham

A key piece of the jigsaw is the use of "Timebanks".

Time Banking began in the UK in 1998 and it works by people giving their time, rather than money.Participants ‘deposit’ their time in a Time Bank by helping and supporting other participants free of charge. They are able to ‘withdraw’ their time when they need to ‘pay’ for free help and support of their own.

In Area 4, the Time Bank project is called the "Skills Exchange", which has over 300 members including individuals and organisations. Those members have ‘exchanged’ an amazing 7,100 hours of free help, including ironing, jewelry repair, tuition to learn English and British Sign Language, gardening and DIY. For instance, one member ‘house-sat’ and looked after another member’s cat, whilst other members without cars have got help with lifts to and from places like the vets or health centre.

Implementing Change
The traditional approach to implementing change in local communities has been to hold meetings in libraries, print out leaflets etc and generally carpet bomb the area with information.

The only problem is that it doesn't work.

Moby commented on how the transient, often immigrant, communities in the most deprived areas of Area 4 will not visit libraries as they view them as places for students or old people trying to stay warm.

And they are under such stress from simply making ends meet that they do not have time to read complicated leaflets and fill in forms.

Also, in a comment that had BFTF searching his own heart, these communities are sick and tired of their children being lectured to at school about eco light bulbs (which they cannot afford) and Fairtrade food (which they also can't afford)

What DOES work, however, is genuinely engaging with the community and giving them something that is immediately useful to them, such as a social get-together with some freebies and useful items such as potted vegetable seedlings at a neutral, very local, venue.

In this context, timebanks can then allow the tenants to take advantage of their collective talents to reduce heat loss with simple approaches such as using old duvets to make insulating curtains, or installing Portiere curtains to reduce drafts and heat loss (see also here).

The Partnership Council then uses the opportunity of these initial low cost measures to inform tenants, hopefully in a more amenable atmoshpere, about other technologies such as the those eco-light bulbs mentioned earlier.

Encouraging people to have pride in their homes is another aim of the project, and again the timebank is key to allowing tenants to easily and cheaply access skills such as making window boxes.

After several years of delays in actually getting a lease signed, the Partnership Council have been given a house in the area at a peppercorn rent and hope to be using it to showcase many of the low cost technologies that are most relevant to the local residents.

Alain Job and his African fare - at an (unrelated) Area 4 community event

A comparison with Aspley
During the Q&A it was asked why there was such a difference between Hyson Green, say, and the large areas of Aspley had been fitted with solar panels. The response was that whereas in Aspley the homes were social housing, all owned by the Council, in Hyson Green the homes were owned by a multitude of independant landlords. This made it hard to implement the large scale program that was undertaken in Aspley

It was also noted that solar panel program in Aspley can clearly demonstrate a reduction in climate emissions (the leccy company will know how much energy is being generated by the panels and this can easily be converted to a CO2 saving). In contrast, the savings in areas such as Hyson Green may be much harder to quantify. It may even be that, after the energy saving measures have been implemented the energy use is exactly the same - it is just that instead of freezing all winter the tenants are now living in a reasonable level of warmth. This is not to denigrate such an achievement. A warm house allows children to study effectively, stops damp and prevents chest infections and asthma developing. It would only take a few saved hospital admissions for the monetary savings to become significant.

But it needs to be understood that energy companies are looking to demonstrate CO2 reductions, because that is what they are being motivated to deliver.

Whereas The Partnership Council is all about community, so the softer issues such as pride in ones house, a warm room for the kids etc are all important factors.

Lack of communication
One startling comment from the presenters was their observation that at the various conferences held around the UK, the climate change people do not seeem to talk to the fuel poverty people !

Examples of best practice
The Yellow House
West Bridgford Eco Houses

UPDATE 11 Dec 2013
Informed by the magic that is Twitter that "Areas were reorganised 2 yrs ago so Berridge (Forest Fields, Hyson Green, New Basford) is now part of Area 5 with Sherwood"

UPDATE Jan 2019
Update to links