A-Z Collaborative Partnership Award Winner: Retrofit Balsall Heath

Retrofit Balsall Heath 2

This ordinary inner-city neighbourhood is trying to get its residents to almost no heating bills by working together to fund, support and deliver retrofits in their own homes.


Retrofit Balsall Heath is a community-led neighbourhood project in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham, made up of local people, community groups, and partners working together to retrofit the neighbourhood – possibly one of the first of its kind working at this scale. They are already responsible for the retrofit of an impressive 650 homes, an equivalent of 13% of the dwellings in the area.


They are also the winners of the 2023 Collaborative Partnership Award at the Accelerate to Zero Awards. Retrofit Balsall Heath was also named as Highly Commended for the Just Transition Award.


The history of Balsall Heath


The Balsall Heath area was a high-crime district in the 1980s, where some housing still lacked bathrooms or indoor toilets. Back then the community came together to form a community-led initiative called the Balsall Heath Forum, which aimed to regenerate the neighbourhood socially and stamp out illicit activity.


Now, four decades on, another movement has formed, this time uniting over another societal issue: fuel poverty and housing’s contribution to the climate crisis.


With 4,900 homes and 15,000 people, the area houses mostly leaky Victorian terraces which, due to a lack of historic investment, has led to high bills and high emissions.


Home to UK-first retrofit


The Balsall Heath area is no stranger to UK-leading built environment innovation.


15 years ago, architect John Christophers and his wife Jo Hindley completed the award-winning Zero Carbon House, the UK’s first retrofit completed to Code 6 zero carbon standard.


But John and Jo wanted to do more than achieve ultra-green status for a single home in the area. If they could enjoy a warm, comfortable house, why not everyone else in the community? So, John and Jo Hindley collaborated with many others to launch Retrofit Balsall Heath in 2022.

The retrofit scheme is not just about the built environment. It's about the neighbourhood, it's about green spaces, it's about community. It's about hearts and minds and a whole way of thinking much more than just fabric installation. It all fits together. Jo Hindley
Co-Founder, Retrofit Balsall Heath

Community collaboration


The history of Balsall Heath as an area has brewed a collective responsibility to improve the quality of their built environment, and Retrofit Balsall Health as a movement has been formed to achieve this through real community collaboration. 


There are several local driving forces behind Retrofit Balsall Heath, including: IFEES (Islamic Foundation for Ecology & Environmental Sciences), The Sultan Bahu Trust, MECC Trust, Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, Balsall Heath Church Centre, Fruit & Nut Village, Zero Carbon House, BHIOP (Balsall Heath Is Our Planet), and Saheli Hub.


Sheik Nuru Mohammed, from Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, says the success in getting so many involved is due to building awareness that retrofitting homes will "save costs and save lives – and when we come together as a community, we can take this to the next level."


Succeeding in retrofit


Working with MECC Trust, and other partners, the movement has retrofitted 650 homes in Balsall Heath and surrounding areas by leveraging the support of local funding, including the Birmingham City Council’s Warmer Homes Fund. For this, they successfully campaigned to remove any household income criteria, often a condition for local authority funding on home-improvements like these, which has made retrofit measures more accessible.


The works primarily focused on insulation, solar panels and heat pumps, with community-led groups, outreach and on-the-ground campaigning being the drivers behind getting the community itself onboard. These partial retrofit measures averaged £10,000 per home.


Retrofit Balsall Heath, MECC and partners have massively accelerated take-up of retrofit in comparison to similar local authority results in the past.


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What’s next for the movement?


When asked about future plans for Retrofit Balsall Heath, Sara says: “Our ambitions include creating a retrofit skills and training hub for local building professionals and young people to train for a green industry where the demand is high. Retrofit can up-skill locals, increasing standards and bringing the cost down.”


“We are also looking forward to a partnership with Sähëlï Hub to work with women and up-skill women in the built environment. This combined initiative will help to empower diverse groups, including Asian, Caribbean, white, and working-class communities.”


Retrofit Balsall Heath is also organising a day of free activities and inspiration for Retrofit Action Week on 18th May 2024. The programme includes practical workshops including planting by Fruit and Nut Village, foraging, poetry, cycle tuition provided by Saheli Hub, delicious food, and thought-provoking talks.


Accelerate to Zero Award Collaborative Partnership Award


The judging panel felt that this community-led project is demonstrating a remarkable long-term social impact through their collaboration with local communities and partners in its local area in Birmingham. They were also Highly Commended in the Just Transition award as the judges felt that this was a great community-oriented response that’s scalable and reflects what the just transition could look like.


The Retrofit Balsall Heath movement should be inspiration for other initiatives like these to be replicated in communities across the UK.

Accelerate to Zero Awards 2024 

Interested in being involved in this year’s Accelerate to Zero awards, either as a sponsor, applicant or attendee at the awards?