2. Forming a consortium and creating a team
Assembling the right team is a key part of developing a retrofit project proposal.
Forming a consortium is one of the critical tasks that must be started early on in developing the proposal. It takes time and effort and can be slower than you expect.
Retrofit projects are large and complex involving many different specialist skills. Once you have a consortium, the next task is putting together a core team that can deliver a successful application and then deliver the project.
Why it matters
In Wave 1 of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF), consortia played a vital role in securing SHDF money. 159 organisations were represented through the 55 successful bids supported by Social Housing Retrofit Accelerator (SHRA), when only local authorities or combined authorities were able to lead SHDF bids.
This criteria changed for Wave 2.1, with all registered providers (RPs) able to apply directly for funding, including local authorities, combined authorities and registered providers of social housing (including housing associations and ALMOs that are registered providers).
In the longer term, consortia still have an important role to play - a consortium approach makes the best use of the strengths of different organisations, provides strategic continuity and can help to unlock different sources of funding or support.
Understanding the different approaches to building a consortium can help you identify what role(s) your organisation can play in a consortium bid. This might give you scope to participate in a bid when resources are limited or the number of potential homes or budget might be insufficient to put in your own. This helps you move more homes along on your decarbonisation journey, facilitating a more ambitious project.
Bringing together the right team for your project will give it the best chance of success and positive outcomes for your residents. Some funders may require specific approaches to project delivery, so you will need to understand the tasks, skills and capacity of the project partners and find ways to bridge any gaps.
Forming a consortium
Retrofit projects can be complex and many housing providers will find it helpful to form partnerships or consortia. In the first instance, this might be to help secure funding, but there are also real benefits from collaborative working when it comes to building scale, unlocking efficiencies and delivering real benefits to your residents and communities.
Whether you are leading a consortium or taking a more junior role, there are important steps you can take to maximise the chances of success.
Why it matters
In Wave 2.1 of the SHDF, a minimum of 100 properties below EPC Band C are required within each bid. Consortium or partnership working may therefore be necessary to meet a minium threshold of properties required to meet funding criteria. In the longer term, a consortium approach makes the best use of the strengths of different organisations, provides strategic continuity and can help to unlock different sources of funding or support.
A joined-up approach can also benefit residents, for example, by creating one project across a local area. This builds consistency and efficiency in how the project is delivered and avoids “pepper-potting”, where some homes are improved and some are not.
Key steps to take
Map potential partners – identify the organisations that could be part of a consortium. Start by reflecting on any current or previous consortium. From there, try to think as broadly as possible about who could be involved. Focus on why organisations should be included rather than reasons to exclude them.
Making contact – start by making informal contact at the right level to sound out the opportunity
Agree a shared purpose – each organisation will need to be clear about what the consortium is for. You may start out working together on one bid or project, or you may want to put in place a longer-term partnership working towards local zero carbon or fuel poverty targets
Agree roles and responsibilities – each partner will need to know what they are expected to do and the time and resources that this might require. Where a consortium is being put together for a bid such as SHDF, reviewing the bid guidance will set out the requirements and this is a good starting point for identifying and allocating roles and responsibilities
Create a consortium agreement – this could be a short statement of purpose as part of your project plan or it could be a more formal and structured local partnership. A written agreement will help to set out how you will work with your partners
Revisit purpose and partners – your consortium may change over time so it’s important to review the purpose and the partners involved.
Start early - Forming a consortium takes time and effort and can take longer than you think.
Have a clear purpose – A consortium without a clear purpose is likely to drift between projects or to get drawn in to things which are outside its original scope. There is nothing wrong with starting small, setting out a purpose of delivering one retrofit project, and using this as a foundation for future partnership working.
Be clear on the value of working together – You will need to understand the value to your organisation but also to other partners in the consortium. Take time to ask potential partners what matters to them so that you can develop a structure that works for everyone.
Think about the critical needs of your project. Who has the resources, the interest and the skills?
Create a shared project plan. Don’t expect everyone to fall in with your ideas. Collaboration in developing the project is as important as collaboration in delivering the project.
Make sure each partner brings something significant and additional to the collaboration and knows what they will deliver in the project.
Understand and respect your role. You may be the catalyst for a consortium, but then find that you are a junior partner (for example, if you work for a small housing association and join a consortium with larger providers and a local authority).
Make sure you spend time getting the consortium agreement right. If everything goes well, it may not be needed, but if there are problems, it may be vital.
Mapping potential partners
There are some dimensions that you can think about to help you identify potential partners for your consortium:
Shared goals – what are your organisation’s goals for your housing stock and for retrofit? Are there other organsiations who have similar goals? This could lead you to other housing providers with similar stock or to local public sector organisations with strategies for carbon reduction or tackling fuel poverty.
Geography – many retrofit partnerships operate at a local or regional geographic scale. Working locally means that you have a shared understanding of places and communities, and that you are likely to be working with a local supply chain (helping to boost jobs and skills in the local area).
Housing stock - If your housing stock is very different to the local stock (for example, if you have a lot of older, solid-walled properties but your area is characterised by newer homes), you may want to seek out partners who have are facing similar technical challenges. Taking an approach based on the housing stock will help you build scale and efficiency across a project.
Scale – The larger the retrofit project, the more formal a consortium is likely to be and the longer it may last (for example, across multiple waves of funding).
Previous experience – for good or ill, organisations you’ve worked with as part of a consortium bid could give an indication of the potential to work together again the future. If the previous project(s) went well then there is an opportunity to build upon this, and this experience can be highlighted in bid documents to give confidence. If you have had negative experiences with a previous consortium, it is important to reflect on the lessons from this and see if there are ways that a new consortium could avoid the same pitfalls.
Community connections – There may be organisations who have strong connections into local communities and can help to build trust in your retrofit project, encouraging people to take part or helping more vulnerable householders to benefit from the project.
Financial and commercial – How will your project be funded? Are there consortium partners who can bring match-funding for retrofit or external funders who may be supporting different elements of the project?
Expertise – Your project may demand specific expertise, for example, technical expertise, research capacity or experience in monitoring and evaluation. Partnerships with local colleges can create skills, training and apprenticeship opportunities, whilst collaborations with universities can help the sector learn more about how to deliver effective retrofit and great outcomes for residents and communities.
Innovation – You may be interested in delivering an innovative approach to retrofit, whether through technical innovation or through the business or commercial model that you use. If you are creating a consortium based on innovation, make sure that you have a shared understanding of the risks associated with the project and that all partners expressly understand the nature of the innovations you are testing.
How to agree your purpose
A workshop with your potential partners is a good way to discuss and agree your purpose. Each organisation should have a chance to set out its priorities and why it is interested in taking part. From here, you can discuss the following questions:
What do you want the retrofit consortium to achieve for your organisation? - This will set out the internal drivers for each organisation.
What do you want the retrofit consortium to achieve for your community / town / residents? - This will identify the external drivers and wider benefits of taking part.
What will be different as a result of the consortium working together? - This should set out the added value that a consortium will bring. You can think about this over different time periods (1 year, 3 years, 5 years etc).
What will happen if the consortium does not exist? - This will identify what is at risk from a more fragmented approach (for example, some retrofit activity may take place but not at the same scale; some funding streams may not be available).
From here, you can work towards a statement of shared purpose, setting out the positive difference that the consortium will make and underpinning this with a statement of what each organisation expects to achieve.
Each organisation’s goals will change over time, for example in response to external events. You should build in a process for reviewing the consortium’s purpose; this may in turn lead you to seek additional partners for your work.
How to create a consortium agreement
It is important to have a written statement between consortium members. This could be a short statement of as part of your project plan or it could be a more formal and structured local partnership. A written agreement will help to set out your shared purpose and how you will work together, giving everyone clarity on roles and helping to ensure continuity if there is a change of staffing.
There are different types of partnership or consortium with different levels of formality, shared risk and even commercial participation. The nature of your consortium will dictate the type of agreement that you choose to put in place; the greater the degree of risk or shared ownership, the more formal your agreement should be and the more you will need to engage internal colleagues (eg, legal, finance).
Your consortium agreement might be take one of the following forms:
Form of agreement
Collaborative working, joint working or partnership agreement
Good for strategic working across an area
Each member acts independently in day-to-day operations but may share resources or interest in a project
Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
A more formal version of a collaborative working agreement
A statement of serious intent – agreed voluntarily by equal partners – of the commitment, resources, and other considerations that each of the parties will bring
It has moral force, but does not create legal obligations
Service Level Agreement (SLA) or contract
This sets out the expectations between a customer and a supplier of some sort – it is a contractual set of expectations with legal force.
Where you might have a collaborative working agreement or MoU with strategic partners (local authorities, housing associations, community organisations), you will have an SLA or contract with a managing agent or delivery partner on your retrofit project.
Standard SLAs and contracts are agreements to work together but there is a very clear relationship of buyer and seller, so they would not typically be used to underpin a consortium or partnership.
Joint venture agreement
Your consortium partners may wish to enter a more formal joint venture, for example, creating a special purpose vehicle to coordinate retrofit activities in your area or entering into a joint venture with an energy services company (ESCo) or other provider.
In a joint venture, the partners share ownership of the project: profits and losses, risks and governance.
Setting up a joint venture takes a significant amount of time and resource, so you need to be sure that the partners are committed to the venture for a long period.
The guidance document Working in a consortium: a guide for third sector organisations involved in public service delivery sets out an approach to developing a consortium agreement (scroll to Appendix C). This includes consideration of:
Standards to which the consortium will work, such as:
Vision and purpose, including:
Each organisation’s goals, values and cultures
Stakeholders and how they can be engaged
How the consortium will work, including:
Management and governance structures and systems
Monitoring, review and reporting arrangements
Whether or not you are the lead organisation in a consortium, you will need to make sure that the structures and systems created genuinely support what you are trying to achieve. That might mean ensuring that your organisation has a seat on a Steering Group or takes specific ownership of part of the project.
How to agree roles and responsibilities
Each partner will need to know what they are expected to do and the time and resources that this might require.
We encourage you to you to watch our on-demand masterclass on team forming and skills mapping; this includes details of the types of skills and expertise that you might need within your retrofit project team and applies equally to your consortium.
How do I get started? And how do I maintain momentum?
Partnership working principles, National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement – a go-to blog posting with some principles for the why and how of partnership building.
What types of consortium are there? What are the different governance structures?
Working in a consortium: a guide for third sector organisations involved in public service delivery, Cabinet Office – this guidance helps set out more of the formal thinking around consortium working. The Appendices on Developing a Consortium Agreement and Models for Working in a Consortium ask a series of questions to help you shape your thinking.
How do we create a really successful partnership?
Successful partnerships: a guide, OECD LEED Forum on Partnerships and Local Governance – this guidance draws on international experiences to find success factors for partnership working at a local level. It explore roles and communications within partnerships, funding and legal considerations and approaches to monitoring and evaluation.
Is there a template for a consortium agreement?
Sample consortium agreement for multi-partner collaborative R&D projects – this example was created by UCL for use mainly by universities in setting up approaches to working together.
Get in touch
If you would like to discuss ways of forming a consortium for your retrofit project, please contact the SHRA Support team.
We would love to hear about your experiences. What has worked for your housing association? What lessons have you learned? What documents, reports or tools have you found most helpful? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share your experiences.