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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
09 November 2021
Associate Feature: Warm Glow

Associate Feature: Warm Glow

Ross Armstrong, Managing Director of Warmworks, has overseen the mobilisation and implementation of the Scottish Government scheme Warmer Homes Scotland.

Formed in 2015, Warmworks has worked with every constituency in Scotland to improve the living situations of people living in fuel poverty – a term defi ned as a household that spends more than 10 percent of its income on energy costs and if the remaining household income is insuffi cient to maintain an adequate standard of living. Speaking on the success of Warmworks, he says, “six-and-a-half years later, we are bigger, we have more contracts and a lot more work to do”. “However, the core of our mission is still about Warmer Homes Scotland and about helping people to reduce their bills in a sustainable way,” he adds.

After a difficult 18 months of Covid-19 restrictions, Warmworks published its 2020/21 Warmer Homes Scotland report earlier this year. Under very challenging circumstances, almost 3,000 homes received assistance under the fuel poverty scheme between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, saving them an average of £258 over the course of the year.

The resilience of the scheme during this diffi cult time has not only been felt by homes benefi ting from the Scottish Government initiative, but also by those working on the Warmer Homes Scotland scheme through Warmworks, as it created 140 new apprenticeships, looking to add skills in renewable energy installation. However, many eligible homes missed out on improvements in this time says Armstrong: “For some, they did not want somebody from outside their household to be inside their home.

“Ultimately, you have got to respect that. People’s appetite for risk was so different.

“Since we returned to work last July, we have visited more than 5,000 households with all these procedures in place. It is not new to us any more, it is practised and established.”

As Warmworks has been able to get back into more homes to make improvements, the Scottish Government has granted a record increase in its budget for 2021/22 for the Warmer Homes Scotland Scheme.

Armstrong says: “Budget increases are hard to come by at the best of times, you only get them if the Scottish Government has faith and confidence in you to deliver. “We never take that for granted. The faith and confi dence that we have from the government has come from providing a high-quality service to people that need it.

“We’ve done very well in providing a high-quality service to 25,000 homes so far. The thing for me, though, is I don’t see this as an endpoint; I see this as a starting point for scaling up and ramping up to the level that we need to be at.

“So, I’m really pleased that the Scottish Government has given us the highest-ever budget this year.

But there’s a hell of a lot more still to be done. “I think we should, to an extent, be proud we’ve been able to gain their trust, but actually, there’s a lot of work still ahead of us, and we need to be getting on with the job at hand.

“When we scale up, and we’re doing more numbers, and we’re doing more households, and we’re helping more.” Eradicating fuel poverty, although it has not been made any easier this year, is the ultimate unwavering focus for Warmworks, and it has added to its understanding of what needs to be done and strengthened its use of the tools with which to do it. 

Armstrong says: “The low-carbon element is going to become increasingly important. The reliance on LPG and oil is already dropping away. “You’re going to see the reliance on gas fall away too, and you’re going to see an increased focus on those low-carbon technologies.

“Those low-carbon technologies are going to rely on the fabric being right, and that’s going to rely on things like insulation measures; loft insulation; wall insulation; cavity wall insulation; internal and external wall insulation.

“We now have robotic underfloor insulation; the robot goes underneath the fl oorboards and sprays under the floor.

“The investment per household is going to be a lot higher than when it was simply a case of swapping out a gas boiler for a more effi cient one. So, logically the investment per household has got to go up. Armstrong is very clear about the importance of the scheme delivering nationwide with the same quality to every corner of Scotland.

“We work with MSPs across the parliament, that’s one of the things that the Scottish Government likes – that Warmer Homes Scotland is a genuinely national scheme.

“We are demand-led, so I don’t know where our referrals are going to come from on a daily basis. Today we might get ten referrals in Shetland, ten referrals in Stranraer and ten in Eyemouth and we have got to go to all of them.

“We have got to have a genuine national delivery framework, so we’ve got to have qualified surveyors, registered qualified installers and quality inspectors in every part of Scotland.

“In the last five years, the scheme has carried out surveys, inspected and installed in every local authority in Scotland.

“The thing that must go alongside that, is quality standards have to be the same across the country.

“In Highland and Islands communities, in particular, you just don’t get away with saying we’re going to do this in half-measures. Our standards are the same in Shetland as they are in Shettleston.”

As the Scottish Government strives for its target of net zero by 2045, Armstrong points out the difficulties for Warmworks and how it can do its part. In the report, 1,925 boilers were replaced with energy efficient heating systems in the last year, of which 98 per cent passed independent inspection at the first time of asking. But, the problem lies in the scale of heating systems needed to be installed.

Armstrong says: “The scale of what needs to be done to make that transition to a net zero Scotland, is hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of properties, and people and lives and families and households need to be changed.

“There is this assumption that technology, like air source heat pumps, is going to be a panacea by itself.

“We can’t assume that because the technology performs well in a laboratory, it will be transformative in a household when somebody is 85 years old, sits in one room all day and doesn’t know how to turn their heating up or down. For some, it’ll be a massive change.

“I think what’s really important for the government is there will be no transition at all unless there is a just transition.

“Scotland will not get to net zero by 2045 if 20 per cent of the population are still struggling, unable to heat their homes and haven’t made the change.”

There is also an issue with affordable renewable energy being spread to the Highlands and Islands, particularly when they often generate a large portion of the nation’s renewable electric energy. Armstrong says: “We run a contract in Orkney for Orkney Islands Council.

“The island generates enough energy to be self-sufficient, but the way
the system is set up is that they send all the energy back to the grid.

“I think if I lived in that community I would be frustrated that I was generating
so much renewable energy but then dealing with a surcharge to use it.”

One of many separate projects that Warmworks has been working on to find new ways to save energy for communities involves domestic battery storage.

The project, based in Dumfries and Galloway, has seen major savings for homes in fuel poverty. Says Armstrong: “133 properties were all electrically heated.

“They were in a rural community that was off the gas grid and we had
identified them all as being at high risk of fuel poverty, so we fitted the
homes with the domestic battery storage units. “Some households were saving up to 60 per cent on their monthly electric bills.”

The lives that have been improved by the scheme are into the thousands, but for Warmworks’ managing director one conversation he had with a mother stands out in his memory. “I went to see a couple who lived in Livingston with their little son who was six or seven. 

“The mum told me that when her son came home from school, he wanted to do his homework in his room but there was no radiator in his room and his room had mould on the walls. He had to do his homework at the table in the living room with all the other stuff going on around him, the telly on, cooking in the kitchen, this, that and the other, lots of distractions and homework wasn’t getting done. But now, he’s sitting doing his homework in his own room, warm, with a radiator on the wall, and he can have his own little space, and now have his friends  around without being embarrassed or cold. I think of that family and how little it took to transform their lives and I think to myself, never take for granted that as a mother you want your seven-year-old to have a warm environment to call his own, his own little room. And I think, yeah, that’s worth a lot.”

This article was written in association with Wamworks.

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