First Steps: How to create a Local Knowledge Network on energy efficient renovation know how

The SHARED GREEN DEAL project is currently conducting social experiments related to the six realms of the European Green Deal (Clean Energy, Circular Economy, Efficient Renovations, Sustainable Mobility, Sustainable Food, Preserving Biodiversity) with pre-defined target groups and objectives.  In the Efficient Renovation Stream four local partner organizations – Let’s Renovate the City (Vilnius, Lithuania), ECODES (Zaragoza, Spain), Habitat for Humanity (Nógrád County, Hungary) and Mayo County Council in cooperation with Climate Action Louisburgh Locality (Louisburgh Locality, Ireland) – were contracted to conduct the social experiments in their local contexts. After the internal kick-off event in Cambridge in April 2023, where the Efficient Renovation consortium members (Anglia Ruskin University, Aalborg University Copenhagen and WECF Germany) met for the first time with the local partners’ representatives, the four social experiments were initiated in the local contexts.

As all four local circumstances and needs towards renovation vary, the following article will give an overview about the first phase of the social experiments that was working towards building up a Local Knowledge Network on energy efficient renovation including political and civil society representatives, practitioners, residents as well as households interested and dependent on renovation measures to decrease their risk of living in energy poverty. The core aim of the Local Knowledge Network is to share knowledge and skills between residents and building professionals in order co-create renovation know-how and promote housing renovation by understanding its social as well as technical dimension.

In Zaragoza, our local partner ECODES held its first network meeting on 15 September 2024, as they faced challenges due to the national and regional elections in Spain that brought changes to the political landscape and had to ask themselves who should be involved in the network’s activities. In the end, 24 people, among them neighbours and representatives or members of 15 organisations attended the initial meeting. The main objective of the session was to emphasise the aims of the experiment to enable a mutual learning experience and to identify barriers to carrying out renovations and possible tools, e.g. visiting buildings before and after renovation. After an interactive introduction, group discussions were held on previous renovation experiences and the groups’ expectations and motivations for participating in the Local Knowledge Network.

The Irish local partners went ahead and recruited their network member through a variety of house visits and meetings during the months of May and June to host their first network event at the end of June 2023. Their Local Knowledge Network includes 35 people, although scheduling network meetings has been challenging initially due to diverging time resources of building professionals and residents. The particular feature of this social experiment is that the local partners had already organised and carried out three eco-tours to houses pre and post renovation before the month of September. This was possible because the members of the network expressed a special interest in learning together and exchanging practical knowledge on site, e.g. about the reuse of old materials and resources, while visiting buildings that are currently being renovated.

In Vilnius, Let’s Renovate the City hosted their first Local Knowledge Network event at the end of August 2023, including 28 building professionals, municipal representatives, and residents in the meeting at Vilnius City Town Hall. The event was scheduled in the evening as a get-together for people to attend after work and enabled an open conversation space, where attendees had time to get to know each other. The heterogenous group actively discussed the benefits of different types of renovations 1) Urban and quarters renovation and consequent processes, and 2) Neighbourhood territories renovation, whilst experiences and attitudes towards renovation processes and policies were exchanged. In the end they jointly agreed on the most beneficial communication strategy that they want to adapt for the network.

Our local partners in Hungary held their first network meeting in mid-September 2023 and recruited members for the network during the summer months. They also experienced a delay in recruiting a sufficient number of professionals to participate in the network (originally 15 people), while the connection of households and residents living in energy poverty went more seamlessly thanks to their already existing network working with affected households (originally 22 households). Most of them participated in the first group session, which was held with the support of a professional facilitator to provide an inclusive methodology and tools for mutual learning and group discussions. Another major challenge accompanying the social experiment in its first steps is the lack of prioritisation of housing renovation and energy poverty in the Hungarian government’s energy policy approach.