Ready for a climate change

A regeneration charity has gone the extra mile by climate-proofing the external spaces at several social housing estates. Hannah Baker reports.

Scientists predict that climate change is likely to bring more extreme weather events to the UK, significantly increasing the threat of surface water flooding and overheating. This in turn would cause substantial damage, disruption and material costs to communities. Social housing tenants in particular may find their properties adversely affected, especially if no measures have been taken to mitigate this risk. While most new housing developments are designed with the flexibility to adapt to future climates, this is not often the case with our existing housing stock. However, housing providers and their maintenance teams need to adapt and future-proof existing buildings and infrastructure in order to minimise the impact of extreme weather on people’s lives and their homes.

Transforming communities

“Climate-Proofing Social Housing Landscapes”, a project co-financed by the European Commission’s LIFE+ Programme and carried out by environmental regeneration charity Groundwork London, aimed to demonstrate how this can be achieved by making improvements to three social housing estates in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. Working with residents, external experts and other key stakeholders, Groundwork London and Hammersmith & Fulham Council designed and implemented a package of retrofit climate change adaptation measures to ensure that these estates are better placed to withstand the effects of a changing climate.

Key activities have included:

• The design and implementation of affordable and socially acceptable retrofit climate change adaptation measures, using a model that is replicable and transferable in cities across Europe

• Supporting the achievement of wider green infrastructure goals – including biodiversity, air quality and play provision – which not only have an environmental impact, but also offer social and economic benefits for residents and the wider community

• Implementing the main measures through employment programmes for long-term unemployed (Groundwork London’s Green Teams), improving their skills and employability

• Developing and running a set of training courses for housing and grounds maintenance professionals to learn how to maintain these measures and replicate them elsewhere

• Developing and implementing a methodology for resident engagement to give them the opportunity to shape the open space improvements on their estates, and to raise their awareness about the implications of climate change

• Evaluating technical performance and social return on investment (SROI) in order to quantify the environmental, social and economic benefits

• Supporting the transferability of similar schemes to other housing landscapes across Europe through the development and dissemination of tools and resources, including an implementation guide and short film

The improvements made to the three estates not only help to improve the estates’ ability to withstand the impacts of climate change, but also residents’ understanding of climate change and its impacts, their engagement with each other and the open spaces where they live, and their health and well-being through their involvement in activities such as food growing and gardening clubs. “We’ve shown here with these three relatively small spaces that there’s a lot that can be achieved… Every time we come down here when it rains, it seems to be achieving what we expect,” said George Warren, flood risk manager, Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

At the same time, the project has helped to ensure that local people have the skills and knowledge to plan for, implement and maintain climate adaptation measures, not only supporting the sustainability of these measures over the longer term but also the implementation of similar schemes elsewhere in the Borough and beyond.

In numbers, the project has achieved:

• 3,158 m² of impermeable surface diverted from draining directly to the sewer

• 4,537 m² of land improved

• 1,286,815 litres annual rainfall retention and diversion away from the storm drain system

• 472 residents engaged

• 81 per cent of residents agree or strongly agree that the quality of the green spaces has improved significantly

• £4.39 of benefits for every £1 invested (SROI assessment)

• 22 Green Team trainees involved in the project, all achieving City & Guilds Level One in Practical Horticulture Skills

• 46 H&F Council maintenance contractors and senior managers trained • 48 representatives from other housing providers engaged in masterclasses


The project has demonstrated that retrofitting open spaces in social housing environments is both necessary and cost-effective, emphasising the role these spaces can play in increasing urban resilience to climate change. The experience also confirmed that such projects work better when not delivered in isolation, but with cross-disciplinary working at all stages.

The comprehensive programme of resident engagement has highlighted that residents are expert users of spaces and have valuable knowledge of their local environment – and therefore their involvement from the start is essential to secure their input and support.

By carrying out a comprehensive approach to monitoring and evaluation, with technical elements led by the University of East London, it was established that the quantification of project impacts can help to make the business case for such schemes, particularly where budgets are limited. Taking on board these experiences and lessons learned, Groundwork London developed an Implementation Guide which aims to equip other housing providers with the tools and resources to implement climate change adaptation measures across their own housing stock.

The Guide provides advice based on the activities and outcomes from the project, and uses the three project sites as best practice examples.

Hannah Baker is programme manager at Groundwork London.

This feature was published in the March 2017 issue of Housing Management & Maintenance magazine.
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