Estate regeneration: Improving homes, health and life chances
Responding to the Government’s call for ideas, Rory Moss, MD at insulation manufacturer ROCKWOOL UK, shares his thoughts on upgrading buildings to improve health and well-being.
Building and neighbourhood design play an enormous role in our lives. The success of programmes such as Grand Designs pays testament to this, highlighting the pleasures of aesthetics as well as the difference that good layout, lighting and acoustics can make.
The Government’s ambition to transform 100 social housing estates around the country recognises this too, and our experience in social housing refurbishment tells us that one of the major challenges we often face is with the poor quality of the building fabric itself.
According to a new report from the Building Research Establishment, published last Friday, this has major implications not only for residents but also for the public purse. The report calculates that the annual cost to the NHS from injuries and illness resulting from homes in poor condition is £1.4bn, and the wider cost to society (including medical costs, lost education and employment opportunities) of leaving England’s poor housing unimproved is £18.6 billion.
Well-considered refurbishment projects, which approach buildings holistically and place community consultation at their heart, can be extremely effective in tackling these issues. Take Wilmcote House in Portsmouth, where the City Council is carrying out a whole building refurbishment of three residential blocks. When completed, this scheme will dramatically enhance energy efficiency – the project aims to reach the rigorous EnerPHit standard, the retrofit equivalent of Passivhaus.
But the ambitions of the Council don’t stop there. The new design is set to transform the visual appearance of the high rise blocks as well as improving their acoustic performance, thereby improving residents’ pride and feelings of safety in their homes, as well as addressing concerns about local noise, which in itself has significant health and well-being implications. A new community hub has also been built on the site, alongside wider community actions such as improving local schooling and the creation of a new adventure playground for local children.
Wilmcote House provides a clear example of what can be achieved through close cooperation between housing providers, architects, contractors and local communities to breathe new life into estates. As Steve Groves from Portsmouth City Council says, "By consulting with Wilmcote House tenants, we are making sure that they are involved in this very important project, can contribute their ideas and remain fully informed and engaged as it progresses."
In addition, the benefits of the project are being tracked in a partnership between ROCKWOOL and the London School of Economics, which will assess the social outcomes including residents’ energy consumption and comfort at home. We welcome the Government’s call to share examples of projects such as Wilmcote House and look forward to feeding in the findings of the LSE study.