Russell Smith our MD summed up what the tens years have meant to him on the evening of the 17th September when we had a small celebration. This is what he said.
Lovely to see you all here tonight. Its been 10 years since Parity Projects was formed, but we weren’t sure we felt the need for a party other than its always been a struggle to know when to celebrate! Is it as you win a job? Complete a job? Paid on time by a client?(!)
Also, a certain Steve Jobs once said that ‘the journey is the reward’, so perhaps we ought not celebrate? – so I thought I’d tell you a bit about our journey so you can be the judge.
Why We Started
I could say it was because there was a gap in the market – but basically it was because I was trying to do the right thing as an engineer to analyse, specify and install the most appropriate techniques to minimise the energy consumption of my Victorian semi, and could find zero good, bespoke advice and even less trade expertise to carry out the work I had specified. Any low energy housing thinking was going into new-build and none to retrofit. It looked like something I’d like to do for a living and nobody was offering it; so Parity Projects was created.
There are some memory nuggets that are burned into my memory that I thought I’d share over these 10 years.
- Speaking at events in parks, living rooms, shows, church halls at weekends and evenings to varieties of audiences often getting home at midnight.
- One particular occasion I was presenting the ‘retrofit opportunity’ at Camden Green Fair (now the London Green Fair) with one person in the audience. That happened to be Chris Newman our now Commercial Director.
- Soon after that, Chris and his then girlfriend Nette came for a house tour – his way of wooing his future wife?!
- Carrying out our first borough-wide retrofit evaluation armed with an enormous spreadsheet, a few maps and two people willing to walk the streets of Sutton to collect details of 75,000 houses.
- Presenting the results of that stock assessment to stakeholders in a little church in Carshalton and meeting a softly spoken chap called David Shewan for the first time.
- Soon after, David helping me on the demo retrofit in the early days – thanks for that.
- One of my first house tours in 2006 and two people on it were John Doggart and Chit Chong. I spotted them on the footpath outside chatting for quite a while afterward and it transpired that they were conjuring up the Superhome Network and my house was to be Number 2 on the list.
- Chris Newman arriving for his first day at Parity and meeting David Shewan – and it turned out that there two of them were at school together in Cheltenham and hadn’t seen each other since.
- Endless days doing the Home Energy Masterplan again on MS Excel before David and Chris turned it into what it is today.
- Attending and winning an Observer Ethical Award in 2009, with John Doggart as my ‘date’. Met and had a chat with Ken Livingston that day after he his mayoral post lost to Boris Johnson – he was smashed.
- One Friday afternoon in 2009, sitting in our office in Sutton waiting to get paid a very overdue invoice by a large client so that we could pay the staff that day. Horrible.
- Alaine Duffy commuting from Southampton to Sutton for the pleasure of working with us.
- My Dad being the voice of reason when we’ve needed it, the deliverer of excellent biscuits and washer of tea towels
- And very importantly, a chat with Paul Ruyssevelt when he was at Verco, after the launch of the Existing Homes Alliance when he asked me what makes me get up in the morning and before that moment I hadn’t event given it a seconds thought. I was forging ahead with our retrofit mission kind of like Forrest Gump deciding to run across America just ‘because’. But I often remember the moment when times get tough and I remember how critical our effort is.
Through the 10 years we have remained resolutely focused on retrofit. We have indeed gone against the start-up text book and offered a lot of different services in this space, predominantly where we think no services exist to support retrofit. Its not always a recipe for financial success! There is a reason nobody offers these services!
- We have carried out Home Energy Masterplans on around 1300 homes. These are private homeowners paying for impartial advice.
- Managed retrofit projects for householder clients worth about £4m.
- CROHM stock assessments on over 1.5m homes.
- Trained around 2000 people.
- Taken around 3500 people on our demo house tours.
Now this is kind of nice, but what difference has it made? Lets put that work into context. As a country we have to complete a good retrofit on every home in the country before 2050, that is 2,400 a day.
There are some impressive examples of past achievement. Isambard Kingdom Brunel changed the entire length of the GWR, from London to Cornwall from broad to standard gauge over only two days in May 1892. Sounds impressive, but he had the advantage of a closed railway for that period a workforce that did what they were told. In our world of retrofit we have 25 million houses, a significant proportion with a unique client all occupied whilst work is carried out. They will very rarely be done in one hit but over a series of phases. This is the defining engineering project of our generation.
The need is urgent, but if we’re not careful, every one of those jobs will be based on decisions made by people that have had no understand of the impact they will have, or a full awareness of the options at their disposal.
Parity provides the engine for understanding the most appropriate options to be taken whilst allowing decision-makers the ability to ignore the policy landscape – useful at a time when the government is burning all the incentives.
In addition to that, we are helping to widen the retrofit offer to all building owners. We cannot be wedded to assuming narrow offers made to every building owner. The Green Deal was pitched by industry to its customers like 20 restaurants offering the same terrible menu. Our work to create and run RetrofitWorks will enable a local advocacy group or organisation to build a retrofit scheme themselves and plug into a supply chain model that we have already created. They can offer retrofit in the way that their constituency wishes to hear about it. It’s about making lots of offers, and responding the desires of building owners. We can tune into their aspirations – energy – money – CO2 – comfort – but also help them to sort the things they simple have to sort – fuel poverty, health problems – building regs. All of these needs can be satisfied with identical technical solutions, but completely different sales approach is needed to hit onto motivations.
In 2016 we will be launching what we believe is game-changing software, empowering every builder, landlord and architect to identify the energy strategy and to pull together projects. At the moment our software has to be driven by us. From next year others can use it without our input once trained.
So, can we say that it’s all about the journey?
It kind of has to be as this will all take a long time and we need for it to be fun (!), but No. I’ve got absolute faith in that our destination will be worth reaching even if the ultimate place is a little foggy at this time. Without puffing out my chest too much I hope that we are an example to others – we need more companies out there doing this. With the team we have and the partners we are working with I know we can make a massive difference, but we must work together to raise the profile of retrofit, what it offers.
Given all of that, I’ve got some thank you’s.
Our clients – for us it feels like we are working on an outcome for our futures, not just a commission and I hope that comes across in our efforts. Thank you for having faith in us.
Partners – thank you for sharing our journey and I hope you’re excited about being able to offer you more autonomy in the future.
The Parity Team – A rare mix of very smart people in our office, many different skills but a strong sense that we are pulling together towards a common goal. Thank you for everything you do and the times you go beyond the call of duty to get things done.
So what does get me out of bed in the morning?
- Three kids under 3 years old……
- That we are on the cusp of creating game changing decision making tools that are needed to take on this engineering challenge. That I am doing it with colleagues and partners that are high quality. I still wake up knowing that what we are aiming for will have as much impact on carbon emissions as those people protecting rainforest, fossil fuels divestment, stopping drilling in the arctic; its just a bit less sexy. We are helping those that help those families that have to choose between food and heat. I am working in an industry that is unparalleled in its ability to enable £3.20 returned through increased GDP per £1 invested by government (Energy Bill Revolution) There are very few jobs that offer all of that, and I share an office with a bunch of people that I am glad to share my time with. That’s a great result after 10 years.
So I’d like to propose a toast. To “clearing the fog”…….