As a famous university town, full of medieval buildings, narrow lanes and, of course, the feeling that you’ll bump into Inspector Morse at any minute, it may come as a surprise to visitors that parts of the city are among the most deprived in the county. Barton, in the North East of the City, is one of those neighbourhoods in the bottom 10% in the UK in terms of experiencing multiple levels of deprivation (eg low skills, low incomes and high levels of crime).
A high proportion of Barton’s homes are steel-frame prefabricated buildings which as well as being poorly insulated and hard to treat are not the most attractive of buildings (to put it mildly). Ex-council houses which have previously been sold off as ‘right to buy’ homes stand out clearly from the current Council houses which were overclad to meet the Decent Homes Standard a few years ago, and a new housing development next door threatens to leave Barton even further behind the times.
So when DECC announced the Pioneer Places grant, Barton was top of the list for a targeted project to improve the quality of life for residents in this deprived pocket of Oxford. Working with local partner the Low Carbon Hub, the plan was to engage residents through their local community group and recruit households to benefit from free energy assessments, identifying ways of saving energy and improving the quality of people’s homes.
The party started, literally, at the ‘Barton Bash’ in November 2012 – a highlight in the local events calendar, organised by the local community association. Alongside the barbecue, party games and face painting, volunteers got chatting to local people about the potential to improve their homes and lower their energy bills.
Following this, every household in Barton received a leaflet about the offer (branded with both the City Council and Low Carbon Hub logos). Well-briefed local volunteers then followed up with a door-knocking campaign that targeted the hard-to-treat properties in the area. Householders were offered free energy assessments and were told these might potentially lead to fully or partly-funded energy-saving measures which would increase the comfort as well as the value of their homes.
Making connections with existing local groups, including the newly formed Low Carbon Barton environmental group, has been a key part of a successful campaign. The connection with the Council and the support of a particularly passionate and respected local Councillor, Van Coulter, also made a big difference.
The Warming Barton project had a very positive reception from householders and within just two weeks 108 households had signed up for the free energy assessments. A total of 119 assessments were delivered throughout the project and, with local domestic energy assessors skilled up as Green Deal Assessors following the launch of the Green Deal, 61 of these include full Green Deal Advice Reports (an Energy Performance Certificate and Occupancy Assessment). The result was a grand total of 579 recommended actions, 206 tCO2 potential annual savings and the potential for each household to save an average of £450 each on their bills.
Our feedback suggests that residents of Barton were immediately motivated to make simple but effective changes to save money in their homes such as switching to energy efficient lighting and putting in reflective radiator panels. A planning permission application has been submitted for external wall insulation for twenty-seven homes, which are eligible for ECO funding, with a view to completing installation before the end of the year.
We have learned a lot during this pilot about the Green Deal and ECO and how best to engage with and serve our communities. While we have achieved a great deal, it hasn’t always been easy and there still remain some barriers that we need to address in order to get as many homes improved as possible, but we won’t be giving up any time soon.
As a result of this pilot, the Low Carbon Hub have developed a partnership with Insulation NE to access ECO funding and install energy-saving measures in even more local homes this winter. The extended ‘Warming Oxford’ programme will be available to the neighbouring deprived parts of the city; Cowley, Littlemore, Iffley and Headington.
Warming Barton and Warming Oxford are major project within the OxFutures initiative for Oxfordshire – an EU funded project to mobilise investment in energy improvements. Through OxFutures we will fund further energy improvements including three hundred domestic retrofits and fourteen community-owned renewable energy projects; steering Oxfordshire towards a bright and sustainable future.