Co-Creation Week: Celebrating street retrofit action

Guided by the foundational question of “What if the climate transition and retrofit of our homes and streets were designed, owned, and governed by the people who live there?” (see Retrofit Reimagined), WeCanMake and Knowle West Media Centre are working closely with residents of a local Retrofit Street (Andover Road) to collectively imagine and make homes, streets and neighbourhoods fit for the future. Retrofit Street is a people-powered retrofit system demonstrator, bringing together local residents, designers, researchers and technical experts to explore ideas, try them out for real, and share the learnings.

In the second half of the easter holidays, residents gathered to prototype what a whole street-based approach to retrofit might look like. Equally important to building retrofit knowledge and understanding was the need to build trust and relationships between neighbours, and with the project team. Alongside more technical-focused workshops, there were plenty of opportunities to get together to connect and celebrate the street, to share food and drink, and to get inspired by other neighbourhood system demonstrator projects across the UK.

Beginning on a sunny Sunday, Andover Road was closed to traffic and opened up for a Playing Out day where we rode bikes, played games, painted faces, and connected with neighbours from up and down the street. With bikes borrowed from Hengrove’s FixX Project, some younger residents even rode without training wheels for the first time. Our new cargo bike was out for its first adventure, and we heard stories about the past, present and future of the street, as well as what dreams local residents have for their ‘hood.

With a car-free street for the afternoon, conversations emerged around what else could be done at a collective level to create more space for shared community life, for nature, and for play. Suggestions included a shared bike storage area, a little library, herb planting for community use, and regular Playing Out days.

A few days later, neighbours got together once again at The Factory, this time with architects, engineers and technical experts, to co-design and live-prototype different retrofit* solutions. As well as combining various retrofit solutions through a card game, mocking up alternative floorplan with scale models, and exploring potential biomaterial solutions, we trialled a quadratic voting exercise to gauge feelings on big decisions like the possibility of shared air-source heat pumps, and the distribution of retrofit interventions across the street. After a full day, neighbours showcased their work with the wider Bristol retrofit community.

After months of having sensors installed in their homes monitoring everything from thermal performance to moisture content, the co-design workshop provided a brilliant opportunity to bring together this technical data with the everyday lived experience of residents. You can retrofit a house to be as efficient as possible, but being able to support how people want to live in their homes through retrofit interventions – the need for a cat-flap, a passion for growing moisture-rich plants, or simply not wanting to disrupt a recently-decorated room – is absolutely crucial.

Wrapping up the week on a very sunny Friday evening, Retrofit Street residents and the wider Knowle West community convened to showcase their work, and welcome in the warm weather at Springfield Allotments. Alongside sunflower seed planting, story sharing, food, and music from The March Hares, we screened the inspiring POWER documentary, about a London community transforming their street into a power station.

With opportunities to connect throughout the week, this celebration felt like a real manifestation of social value and joy that comes with collaboratively imagining, testing and creating retrofit solutions through a shared street-level approach. Many retrofit schemes and energy efficiency grants fail due to a lack of trust and understanding, and we have a real opportunity here to chart a different course through a street-based approach. Along with other neighbourhood demonstrators as part of the Retrofit Reimagined network (ie. Retrofit Balsall Heath and Retrofit Saltaire, to name a few) we hope to demonstrate how through bringing together the technical and the everyday, neighbourhoods can be supported to make homes and streets more comfortable, and better for people and planet.

Get invovled

Thank you so much to everyone who joined throughout the week and made it what it was. With an ethos of working in the open, our people and place-led approach to retrofit innovation is designed to be shared with other communities facing similar challenges to ours, and to constructively feed into and influence more market and government-led retrofit programmes and policies.

Keen to collaborate or support Retrofit Street? Please get in touch.


*We define ‘retrofit’ in broader terms than just insulation and solar panels, with the aim that communities are able to better respond and adapt to changing needs over time.