University students who live in privately rented houses account for nearly 40% of total student population in the UK, according to the NUS. The majority of them live in relatively old housing stock which is energy inefficient. Many lack the knowledge and skills and with energy bills ever increasing, students are a vulnerable group with little external support.
Competing with 120 student unions all over England, the University of Worcester Students’ Union was successful in winning a grant of £172,000 to run a project to improve energy efficiency in student houses.
This far reaching project works with students, landlords and Worcester City Council to retrofit student houses to improve housing standards and conditions along with their energy behaviour.
Bespoke software, peer learning from accredited students as well as curriculum ‘live’ project opportunities are hallmarks of #EnergizeWorcester. To test its replicability the project will be run with Birmingham Guild of Students and aims to offer the National Union of Students a similar model to Student Switch Off that can be rolled out to any University.
Student Switch Off which the University of Worcester have run for the students for over six years teaches good energy habits to students when they live in student halls of residence.
#EnergizeWorcester looks to embed this behaviour even further when students move on to houses in their second and subsequent years when they, possibly for the first time, will be responsible for paying their own energy bills.
Giving students real projects as part of their studies is very important at the University of Worcester, so linking #EnergizeWorcester to the curriculum was an easy decision. Peng Li #EnergizeWorcester project manager says:
“We have worked with creative students (3rd Year Creative Digital Media), who have come up with the creative strategy and look for the campaign. Student teams worked in teams and had just 24 hrs to deliver a concept for the campaign. The winning designs were awarded a cash prize of £100. The quality was remarkable and we thank all the teams for their ideas”.
Students who live off campus are being encouraged to save energy, win prizes and learn good energy habits by signing up to #EnergizeWorcester.
The theme of the campaign is limbo dancing with students being encouraged to take selfie’s of themselves limbo dancing around campus and competing to reduce energy in the ‘how low can you go’ campaign. All Worcester students need to do to enter is take a couple of photos of their electricity and gas meters and tweet or upload them. They can have fun as well and win prizes with the limbo competition.
Kynton Swingle president of the Students’ Union says the project will be a transformation for students who don’t know much about energy saving:
“This two year project trains student energy advocates who also gain City and Guilds Energy qualifications to speak with their peers in their homes and show them what they need to do to use less energy.”
Rosa, a second year psychology student and energy advocate has benefited from the training and advice available through the scheme:
“The training was very interesting and I learned a lot from it. Certain bits of information led me to do more research, and gave me a more rounded view on the topic as a whole. I feel like I should carry out this job with a high level of professionalism and deliver knowledge to the best of my ability”
Kynton added: “It is nationally recognised that students are in fuel poverty, which is the amount of money they pay for their energy bills is disproportionate to the amount of income they have. Sometimes students’ fuel bills are included in their rent. This means it’s even more important for students to understand about their energy use so that when they are responsible for the bills, they have good energy habits which they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
This innovative project also greatly involves landlords accommodating students at the university. It aims to support property owners to make their rental properties more energy efficient and thus reduce cost of gas and electricity bills. The project team will look at ways to finance retrofit measures to houses, such as new, more efficient boilers and insulation.
The National Landlords Asscociation (NLA) supports the initiative that would provide tenants with more energy efficient homes that are sought after.
Don Robbie, NLA Local Representative in the West Midlands says:
“Making sure that private rental accommodation is as energy efficient as possible isn’t just about sustainability; It’s a core priority for landlords in meeting the needs of their tenants.
“It makes it a much better learning and living environment for students if they are renting easy to heat homes. An increasing number of landlords are switching on to the benefits of offering higher quality housing stock. It’s a question of consumer demand, and landlords in an increasingly competitive market are becoming wise to the fact that students are looking for lower bills and warmer homes. As awareness about energy conservation increases, more and more tenants are asking to see Energy Performance Certificates and will discuss the energy efficiency of homes before they agree to rent.”