Urban Futures Salford Manchester. Research in the City

Chorlton Refurb

Chorlton Refurb, a community organisation based in Chorlton, south Manchester is made up of local householders. It aims to build local understanding of how to reduce home energy usage, have a warm home and save the planet. Chorlton has a considerable stock of old and cold houses, many of which have solid walls and require significant resources to heat and power them.

Since 2010 it has been coordinated by Nigel Rose and operates on the principles of reducing both domestic energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions. The emphasis on energy usage is one that challenges wastefulness and promotes careful use of increasingly scarce natural resources, particularly fossil fuels. This is not only seen as a resource and carbon issue but also in relation to fuel costs, warmth and comfort.

Practically Chorlton Refurb organises training courses, writes leaflets, stages exhibitions and gives advice., Members of Chorlton Refurb share their experiences of various practical aspects of reducing energy usage from getting funding for home improvements, to knowing which forms of LED lighting to choose, to draughtproofing, to underfloor insulation, to reducing electricity consumption and forms of insulation.

In 2012 Chorlton Refurb, in association with Green Chorlton, received £38,000 funding from the UK Government through the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) Local Energy Assessment Fund (LEAF). It required mapping the types of properties in Chorlton, particularly older and less energy efficient properties, then undertaking and writing reports of 20 detailed assessments of typical examples of these kinds of properties including air permeability testing, thermal imaging and a questionnaire to understand energy usage in the house.

They found that private householders had undertaken so much development on their houses and had such different needs that it wasn’t possible to find ‘typical’ houses. Also, they found that what householders really valued was not the results of the assessment but the chance to learn, discuss and think about what they could do with their homes.

Even though the houses were not strictly ‘typical’, they were a set of common issues including a lack of knowledge about the importance of draughtproofing, the necessity of ventilation and that wood stoves are not necessarily a green option. The results of the project were written up in a report and presented at an exhibition at Chorlton Library and also at a public meeting attended by approximately 70 local householders. The report, assessments and leaflets are all available on the Chorlton Refurb website. 

The funding was organised on a tight timescale and finished on 31 March 2012. It highlights the effort and work required in securing and delivering these kinds of funding streams and also the time limited nature of such funding. No formal evaluation of the project was undertaken but Chorlton Refurb remains in contact with a number of the householders, many of whom have put into action a significant number of the recommendations.

In 2013, Chorlton Refurb won Lottery funding to organise and undertake a course of six evening classes for local residents, to address energy usage and the ways to reduce it. The course, which ran from October, was targeted at homeowners who were ready to practically go about making changes in their domestic energy usage but who didn’t have experience of doing so. Specifically this meant addressing a range of issues from how to heat your home effectively, to energy generation, insulating less obvious areas, dealing with contractors and a range of other issues.

An Alternative?
Chorlton Refurb aspires to create a critical mass of people in Chorlton who have made home energy improvements and to find ways of local people working together to support each other in reducing energy usage. This is based on a premise of sharing knowledge and experiences rather than relying on many individual responses that fail to learn from each other. Chorlton Refurb acts as a way to communicate and exchange knowledge through its website, training sessions, leaflets, home assessments, a mailing list and stalls at festivals.

In doing this, Chorlton Refurb has undertaken work that brings together the specifics of the challenges facing Chorlton’s housing stock with more generic kinds of technological responses that can address some of these challenges. It has been active in identifying the forms of local expertise and contractors who may be able to support local responses. In doing this, Chorlton Refurb has worked to develop local knowledge that hitherto either didn’t exist or was fragmented.

Chorlton Refurb has been reliant on the commitment and time of a small number of householders giving their time freely and has been supported through a small amount of external funding including national government and Lottery funding.

Chorlton Refurb shows the importance of local knowledge and understanding and the very particular local ways in which this is generated and maintained. But it also shows something of the work in securing national funding and aligning with national priorities in doing so and the precariousness of short-term funding.


This article is published here as part of the Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform’s aspiration to raise the visibility of different community innovations, grassroots projects and activities in the city-region.

It also draws on SURF's involvement in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant, 'Retrofit 2050' and contributes to understanding of the Remaking of the Material Fabric of the City.
Find out here about the background, purpose and content of ‘The Alternative?’ series of articles on Platform.

Main photograph courtesy of Flickr user Mikey published under a Creative Commons licence.

Many thanks to Nigel Rose for his signicant contributions to this article.

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