In recent years, many policy-makers have recognised that people need to be put at the heart of decision-making on long-term challenges like social care and climate change. At local, regional and national level, citizens’ juries and assemblies have been instigated to enable ordinary citizens to deliberate and reach conclusions together. Here in the North of England, a first-of-its-kind Social Housing Tenants’ Climate Jury has recently made 19 recommendations to the social housing sector. So why was a Jury needed, what has the process involved, and what have tenants recommended?
A quarter of the North’s carbon emissions come from our existing homes. If we’re to meet the challenge of net zero, that needs to change. That means upgrading homes to make them as energy efficient as possible and transitioning home heating to renewable sources. It’s a huge challenge – we estimate over 4million homes across the North will need energy efficiency works by 2035.
That’s 4million homes, personal spaces, that will require change: the prospect of potentially disruptive works that might mean clearing your loft, having scaffolding around your house, and needing to redecorate afterwards. However considerate the tradespeople are, that’s a prospect most of us wouldn’t relish.
The Northern Housing Consortium’s members – councils, housing associations and ALMOs across the North – told us that the fact that ‘these are people’s homes’ was top of their minds when considering retrofit – they saw meeting the challenge of net zero as much as a tenant engagement issue as an asset management issue.
So we came to the conclusion that tackling climate change in the North’s homes and neighbourhoods needed to start by listening to the people who live in those homes and neighbourhoods – and the Social Housing Tenants’ Climate Jury was born.
Five of our members – First Choice Homes Oldham, Karbon Homes, Salix Homes, Thirteen and Yorkshire Housing – worked with the NHC to bring deliberative democracy to the social housing sector. Shared Future CIC brought their extensive experience of citizens juries and assemblies, and we established an expert Oversight Panel to ensure the independence and integrity of the process.
7,500 tenants across the North were invited to get involved, and from the expressions of interest received, a Jury of 30 tenants was selected, using random stratified selection to ensure they reflected the diversity of the population of tenants across the North, and a range of attitudes to climate change.
The Jury met for 30 hours over the Summer, taking evidence from over 20 expert commentators, to answer the question set for them by the Oversight Panel – ‘How can tenants, social housing providers and others work together to tackle climate change in our homes and neighbourhoods?’ Commentators included academics, technical experts, fellow tenants, housing association representatives and a Government minister.
This was an intensive process. The Jury gave up their time to go on this journey together, and reflected that they had:
‘Brought together different levels of knowledge, experience and different opinions to create shared understanding and shared solutions in the form of recommendations that we have all worked hard to create and agree upon’.
- Recommendations on retrofit technology
- Recommendations on costs and managing disruptions to tenants
- Education, raising awareness, communications and housing association collaboration
- Tackling climate change in our neighbourhoods.
On technology, tenants concluded that landlords needed to take into account the urgency of climate change: ‘We are running out of time’. The jury wanted landlords to speed things up, whilst keeping an open mind about how technology might develop in future. The quality of installation was very important, and tenants wanted to see the best quality of technology used, with landlords working to ‘optimum standards’, and independent inspection of completed work. Residents recognised that ‘new skills are needed’ and suggested that housing associations should be proactive and look to train and employ their own skilled workforce.
Throughout the Jury’s deliberations, costs were a real concern. Tenants wanted assurances that the huge cost of retrofit wouldn’t push rents up; were keen to ensure that retrofit works delivered on the promise of lower energy bills, and that residents weren’t left footing bills for redecoration. They made practical suggestions – for example, the Jury was concerned that residents might experience fuel poverty as they adjusted to the most efficiency way to use new heating technologies and suggested a pot of money that could help people who found themselves in this situation.
Disruption was a real worry, and the Jury made practical suggestions to minimise this, calling for clear and timely information from their landlords, with named regular contacts who could work with them throughout the process. Tenants asked for clarity about the input that would be required from them – stressing that they can’t take time off work without notice: ‘Full disclosure from both sides, on all matters, will help efficiency, lessen delays and be most cost-effective.’
It was clear that Jurors had learnt lots through the process, and they were keen that awareness was raised with everyone in their communities – so that residents had ‘the information to be able to make their own decisions’. The Jury stressed the importance of good communication, sharing progress and being open about delays and problems. They wanted to see housing associations working together and with councils and other agencies.
Jurors were clear that tackling climate change didn’t end at the front door and made a series of recommendations around the use of green spaces, highlighting the potential for growing food, for collaborating with local businesses like supermarkets; and for showcasing action taken by tenants
This was a hugely inspiring process – and it’s difficult to summarise the breadth of insights and wisdom that the Jury process elicited. Read the Jury’s recommendations, and take the Jury’s advice: ‘Go forward with an open mind, listen to what we have to say and above all – let’s take action and act together’.