Understanding Retrofit for Faith Buildings

Reducing energy use in Faith buildings overcoming funding barriers challenges workshop

Reducing energy use in Faith buildings

Reducing energy use in Faith buildings

Faith buildings with heavy use and high fuel costs are looking for ways to reduce their energy use.  As part of Footsteps’ Project 4F, Ecobirmingham has been carrying out whole building faith building energy assessments and identifying ways of reducing energy use. These often involve significant expenditure for the faith communities involved and funding challenges.

The need for faith communities to work together on faith buildings where the greatest difference can be made had also been recognised at the Action not Words conference called by the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group and Footsteps in November 21 following the Glasgow COP26 climate conference.

Overcoming funding barriers workshop

Overcoming funding barriers workshop

The well attended workshop brought together experts and people from Birmingham’s faith communities and included presentations, discussion, visits to three faith buildings and a networking lunch sponsored by CSE – an independent national charity that helps people change the way they think and act on energy.   

Specifically, the workshop was an opportunity to:  

This content draws heavily on material provided at the workshop by Megan Blythe, CSE Project Officer, Ian Simpson, Birmingham Diocese and, through EcoBirmingham, Phil Beardmore.  Their contributions are too numerous to acknowledge on individual pages!   

Megan Blythe at the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) ‘helps people change the way they think & act on energy through advice, community empowerment, research & policy.

Ian Simpson has been Church of England Birmingham’s Historic Places of Worship Support Officer since July 2019 when he moved to the city from Liverpool where he had been Diocesan Heritage & Technical Officer for six years.

Phil Beardmore heads Energy Confidence providing Independent and impartial energy saving expert advice for faith and community buildings, businesses and home owners. 

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Understanding Retrofit

We are facing two crises in the UK – the urgent need to reduce our carbon emissions and the need to respond to rapidly increasing energy prices. There is an increasing need to take action to reduce energy use from our buildings to not only save money but to take action in the fight against climate change. This is where “Retrofit” comes in.

Retrofit refers to improvements on an existing building to improve its energy efficiency. By retrofitting our homes and other buildings (inc. key community spaces), we are making them easier to heat, able to retain that heat for longer, and replacing fossil fuels with low carbon and renewable energy options.

Energy assessments

Each of Birmingham’s 720 places of worship has its own challenges in terms of reducing heat losses and fuel bills.  The type of building, size, nature of usage, financial resources and support from wider faith community all impact of undertaking energy assessments and acting on the recommendations.   

Around 80% of Birmingham’s places of worship are buildings that are recognisable as synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and gurdwaras.   Some have been built in the past ten years, others are hundreds of years old.  Faith groups also worship in  

Through Ecobirmingham, 14 whole building energy assessments are being undertaken Phil Beardmore as part of Project 4F for a range of different faith building types and uses. 

Taking Action

‘Building energy assessments need to be turned into action to reduce energy bills and carbon footprints. Here are some of the key considerations, sequencing and planning issues involved’

Fundraising for Improvements

“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission. Fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging.

When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, ‘Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard’. Rather, we are declaring, ‘We have a vision that is amazing and exciting’.”

Henri Nouwen, “The Spirituality of Fundraising” (2003)   as quoted by Ian Simpson, Church of England Birmingham

Obtaining Grants

Grants are available from a wide range of sources but most have specific criteria in terms of geographic location, type of project supported, faith affiliation and size of grant offered.

Careful research to identify potential grant makers and to find the criteria used will pay off.  Some grant makers encourage informal discussion beforehand and most have websites that explain the criteria they use.

Engaging with Communities

Places of worship can also encourage retrofit amongst their congregations as well as improve their own buildings.

Congregations and faith community members, as well as most Birmingham residents, are also facing escalating energy bills.

As well as undertaking faith building energy assessments, Footsteps’ Project 4F has been working with the Act on Energy Warmer Homes programme to provide practical support for faith community members who are facing difficulties paying fuel bills and keeping warm.

Some key principles underlie engaging with congregations and communities.

Fuel Poverty in Birmingham

The fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) defines fuel poverty as homes more than 10% of total income on energy.

The NEA’s website in July 2022 quotes ‘Energy experts Cornwall Insight predicted that when the price cap rises in October, the average energy bill could reach £3,250 per year, with bills expected to increase by over 60%. If that happens, National Energy Action predicts 8.2 million UK households will be in fuel poverty – that’s one in three.’

The ‘heat map’ opposite shows the levels of fuel poverty in different localities in Birmingham.  Very dark red (Decile = 1) shows the localities where fuel poverty was highest (around 51%).  The lightest red show the localities where fuel poverty is lowest (around 13%).

Unsurprisingly, most of the highest level of fuel poverty in Birmingham are in a band running east to west through the centre of the city and in pockets in the south west of the cities.