Housing is a key element of regeneration, both as a fundamental necessity and as a driver for wider related activity. In the latest of a regular series of Scotregen columns, the SFHA’s David Stewart reflects on a recent study visit with the Housing Energy Efficiency Learning Network.
It was Kermit the frog who famously said “It ain’t easy being green”, however a recent study trip to Fyne Homes headquarters on the Isle of Bute left me with the impression that not only is it important and desirable to be green, it might just be easier to achieve than Kermit suggested, provided that you set your heart on it.
The reason for the trip was that it was part of the Housing Energy Efficiency Learning Network’s programme. The network aims to share practice and learning among people working on addressing energy efficiency and fuel poverty, and the visit to Fyne Homes was a chance to learn from an organisation that had done a huge amount for the communities that it served.
Unfortunately some idiot had scheduled the trip for the Glasgow Fair, promising sunshine and ice cream (yes, it was me). Readers who have spent any time in the west coast of Scotland won’t be surprised to learn that our visit coincided with the wettest day of the summer so far.
The weather, however, could not detract from our interest in the excellent work that Fyne Homes have undertaken in Argyyll. Peter MacDonald of Fyne Homes gave an excellent presentation on the history of the organization, focusing on its commitment to sustainability, low carbon development and working to benefit their community. These included the recent completion of the first fully accredited Passivhaus in Scotland and the associations learning experience from a highly insulated housing development – it wasn’t enough to specify and design a low energy building – tenants had to be on board and educated in how the building and its heating system were designed to be used, and all of the housing association staff had a role to play in this.
After lunch we went out to look at some of the practical schemes that Fyne Homes and its wholly owned social enterprise Fyne Futures have developed:
This project started 5 years ago with one man collecting empty cans and bottles, cycling a bike with a trailer around pubs in Rothesay. Successful grant applications have allowed it to expand, and it now collects 450 tonnes of recycling per year. And if that weren’t sustainable enough, the trucks that collect it run on biodiesel.
A very Scottish twist on being sustainable, biodiesel is used oil from restaurants and chippies that is processed and can then be used to power vans and trucks. Fyne Futures now also has a training centre where they can show people from around the UK how to make biodiesel.
This scheme aims to provide affordable, fresh produce to residents of the island. The project provides green box deliveries of fresh fruit and vegetables, and already employs three people. There is also a scheme that educates children about the benefits of fresh fruit and veg, and how to grow your own – the “Ferry Club.” The project uses recycled water, electricity generated by a wind turbine and the tractor runs on biodiesel.
Fyne Homes are also running Towards Zero Carbon Bute, a scheme that aims to reduce carbon emissions on Bute by 25% by providing energy advice and help in applying for grants to householders.
The association have also developed plans for a wind farm to generate clean electricity and provide a source of income for the association and the community that it serves – perhaps allowing Fyne Homes to continue to develop houses and serve its community in a climate where funding is likely to be substantially reduced.
In spite of the wet weather, the trip left us all feeling inspired by what Fyne Homes had achieved for the communities it served, and with a strong desire to learn from how they went about it. Of particular interest, in the current climate, was how the association had become so much more than a developer and landlord and how some of its projects were either working towards being self sustaining or in the case of the wind generation scheme, might provide funds to subsidise the development of affordable housing and activities that benefit the community.