4.Planning resident engagement
Resident engagement is crucial to the successful implementation of a retrofit project. Retrofit projects that deliver large reductions in carbon emissions are complex and the works are often invasive and disruptive. The support of the occupants is crucial to the success of these projects.
Why it matters
It’s important to think about retrofit as something that is being done with and for people, rather than simply being done to a building. People have an emotional connection to their homes, whether they are tenants or owners; for tenants, there is also a sense of having less control over major decisions about their homes. Being clear and open in engagement with people can therefore help to make the whole process feel easier for everyone.
Residents need to know what the proposed retrofit work will mean for the way they live and be happy with the changes. Their cooperation is needed throughout the whole lifecycle of the project. At handover, residents must know how to use the retrofit systems correctly. This will ensure that the planned carbon savings are achieved and they will benefit from greater comfort levels and enhanced health and wellbeing.
Good resident engagement is obligatory. Retrofit projects that receive government funding (including SHDF) and from Energy Company Obligation (ECO) subsidies must comply with the Publicly Available Specification PAS 2035. This standard requires retrofit contractors to ensure that the wellbeing of residents is central to the planning and delivery of the installation works. In addition, Section 20 legislation requires social landlords to consult with leaseholders who may be affected.
Key steps to take
Map the end-to-end resident engagement journey through the retrofit to understand the key moments when you will be working with residents
Develop your resident engagement plan
Make sure you allow enough time for meaningful engagement within your retrofit project plan
Engage internal colleagues who work with and understand your residents and who can support delivery of the project, for example, resident liaison or customer service
Has a Retrofit Coordinator been appointed? They will be able to provide you with specialist support to ensure compliance with PAS 2035.
Start early. Engage with the community as soon as you can, to help build trust, maximise opportunities for their involvement and be ahead of any rumours that might circulate.
Think about what you have to offer. Not every resident will welcome the opportunity to be a part of a retrofit programme and they may have concerns about the works. Thinking about different ways to talk about the work and the potential benefits, as well as how to mitigate or remove any barriers, will help bring and keep people on board.
Identify different categories (or segments) of residents to understand the variety of different factors you need to consider. For example, understanding residents with different types of vulnerability can help you engage more effectively and design your retrofit project to suit their specific needs.
Be clear about the process of the work. This will help you to understand where the works will intersect with residents’ lives along the delivery journey. This can then inform how you set out the process to them, helping to build buy-in and manage expectations.
Simplify technical details to help people understand the changes that will be made to their homes.
Keep engaging throughout the project, bringing the community with you.
Work with trusted intermediaries. Local champions among residents can help you reach out to residents, particularly in harder-to-reach groups. They can also act as a bridge between residents and the project team, helping to build trust and improve communications.
Build your process around residents, not around your project team. Meetings should be held in places that residents can access, at times which suit them, and in ways which encourage participation and dialogue. Local community centres are invaluable, and relaxed environments such as coffee mornings or fish and chip suppers can help foster creative and collaborative ways of working.
Ensure information flows - both to and from residents - throughout the project. Engagement does not stop when the retrofit is completed. An ongoing relationship is needed to help residents get the best from their retrofitted homes.
Why involve residents?
The Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard (2017) requires housing associations to provide choices, information and communication appropriate to the diverse needs of tenants in the delivery of all standards. This includes providing opportunities to influence and be involved in decisions about strategy but also about repairs and maintenance. There is a strong emphasis on recognising that tenants have different needs and design communications processes which take these diverse needs into account.
There are specific rules for how leaseholders should be consulted. Section 20 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (amended by Section 151 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002) sets out how and when leaseholders should be formally consulted. At minimum, the housing association will need to comply with formal leaseholder consultation requirements. Best practice advice is that leaseholders should be represented throughout the procurement process on panels in a proportionate manner based on the percentage tenure in the area that the contract covers.
Effective resident engagement will help to deliver a project that is responsive to local requirements and priorities. Time spent working with residents to define the retrofit project will reduce the need to negotiate changes (which usually result in additional costs). It will also help to identify and agree resident expectations for the project.
Your residents are a vital source of information and feedback about their homes – they have a close-view of issues like draughts, damp or inefficient heating systems. Residents are also experts in the people living in your homes: themselves. They will know their own lifestyles, their comfort levels, their financial situations and their health in ways which can help inform the design and delivery of a retrofit project and ensure that the wider benefits of retrofit are achieved.
People feel more loyal and supportive of services where they have helped to make the choice. Residents, as the ultimate end users, should ideally have an influence on the works or services that are being proposed and the selection of the service provider.
Developing a resident engagement plan
Trust must be established from the beginning of the project and maintained through to its conclusion. This is difficult when there are so many professionals involved – from design to installation and ongoing support. Developing an resident engagement plan is therefore a priority.
An effective resident engagement plan will set out:
What approach are you taking to resident engagement? Why? The section below on the “ladder of engagement” sets out different types of engagement.
What are you trying to achieve through the engagement process?
What will be different following each step of the engagement process?
Understanding of your residents
Who will you engage? For example, is your product focused on a specific estate or are you looking at a type of housing across your stock?
What are their communications needs? Some residents may not have internet access; some may have English as a second language or difficulties understanding complex information.
What are their needs through the retrofit project? Are there residents who will need more support through the process? Some residents may want to have a friend or family member with them whilst works are being undertaken.
What are you going to say to residents? There will be a certain amount of information that you need to provide.
What are you going to ask residents? Engagement is a two-way conversation so you should think about what resident input you would like into the project.
How can you make technical information more accessible? Videos and animations are great ways of explaining retrofit, and can be made at relatively low cost.
How will you address key resident concerns? Residents will have very real and very practical concerns about the project and it’s essential that you do not leave people feeling powerless in their own homes. Common areas of concern are:
How will you get your message across?
What “passive” communications will you use? Passive communications are methods such as posters and leaflets. They are valuable for making sure that people are generally aware of a retrofit project but limited in that you do not know who has seen or read them or how they feel in response.
What “active” communications will you use? Active communications are more about conversations. Resident panels, focus groups and community events would all be examples of active communications.
How will you engage at each stage of the retrofit project, from design through delivery to making sure that people are benefiting from their new energy systems?
Who will be involved in resident engagement? This is likely to include internal teams (energy, sustainability, customer service, resident liaison) and your retrofit coordinator, but may also include your contractors and community or neighbourhood groups.
What budget do you have? Engagement can be done at relatively low financial cost (printing, filming a video), but always carries a high time cost. The more complex and disruptive your retrofit project, the more time you should spend talking with residents.
Ladder of engagement
There are different approaches to participation and engagement and these are often shown in a model called the Ladder of Engagement. The five-step ladder shown below is widely used in the health and social care sector. Engagement at any of the levels shown below is valuable, but the higher up the ladder you go, the more meaningful the engagement is for all involved.
Type of Engagement
Placing decision-making about the retrofit project in the hands of the community and individuals.
Working in partnership with residents in each aspect of the decision, including the development of alternatives and the choice of the preferred solution.
Working with residents to ensure that their concerns and aspirations are understood and considered.
Obtaining community or individual feedback on alternatives or options. This might be based on a shortlist of options that has been developed without resident input.
Providing residents with balanced and objective information to help them understand the project.
Are there any standards for resident engagement?
National Tenant Engagement Standards (England), TPAS – TPAS produces voluntary engagement standards to support housing providers in conversations with residents across all aspects of their work. The latest standards can be downloaded from the following link (registration required).
The TPAS Cymru website sets out resident engagement standards for Wales. These are available at:
How can I think about the whole resident engagement journey?
Managing human factors in retrofit projects, the University of Salford – this research paper looks at resident engagement through (and after) a retrofit project, identifying why it matters and key considerations at each stage. It is a useful and accessible summary of other research in this topic.
How do social housing providers think about tenant engagement? And how do tenants feel?
Engaging and empowering tenants in council-owned housing, LGA and TPAS – insights and case studies from both local authorities and tenants about the process of engagement. This report explores what “good” involvement looks like from both a council and tenant perspective, and brings together some practical examples of positive action.
Get in touch
If you would like to discuss planning issues on your retrofit project, please contact the SHRA Support team.
We would love to hear about your experiences. What has worked for your organisation? What lessons have you learned? What documents, reports or tools have you found most helpful? Please contact if you would like to share your experiences.