- December 18, 2017
- Posted by: Zina Smith
- Category: All News
At a time when the news is packed full of ‘deal or no deal’ stories and Brexit has become a national obsession, some might find it surprising that we feel it the right moment to move closer rather than further away from European colleagues. The truth is that collaboration has never been more important.
Although there are clearly differences between national systems, housing traditions and funding approaches, time spent with European Federation for Living (EFL) partners has shown us that the sector faces very similar challenges across Europe.
Providers and municipal authorities need to solve multiple challenges: ageing populations; high house demand and limited supply; inflating costs; the need to digitise and drive value; and pressure from national governments. These can all pull resources out of the sector to plug other budgetary gaps. Issues around regeneration and social inequality are also felt across national boundaries. There are fascinating and effective ideas that we can adapt and test in the UK to strengthen our ability to tackle housing supply and social challenges.
Established in 2007, initially with membership from the Netherlands, Germany and France, EFL is a learning, good-practice and innovation network with three strands of membership. Housing associations are the core members with representation from across Europe.
The second kind of ‘associate’ membership brings in housing related supply chain companies. These are diverse in scale and business specialism and include IT providers, strategy and financial consultants, as well as technical and investment innovators. Building information modelling (BIM), 3D representations, low-carbon design and energy management are some of the areas of expertise represented within EFL. Many associates take on lead roles in EFL topics groups and representation.
The last category of membership is for the academic institutions, which, again, are diverse in specialism and geography and include universities. An exciting development in 2017 has been the organisation and hosting by EBZ Business School in Bochum, of a housing summer school, attended by about 30 young housing professionals from across Europe. In October 2017 the Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia became the most recent academic participant.
EFL in action
EFL holds two main conferences each year. However, the greatest value comes from the themed ‘topic groups’ and the related projects around which members collaborate. The topic groups look in depth at issues that members voted to be the highest priorities for them. Currently these are: finance and treasury; digitisation; intergenerational living; energy; and social domain, which broadly equates to community initiatives and social value. The last topic brings EFL into collaboration with an even wider community of housing providers and municipalities.
Another topic group has been established to identify and respond to calls for relevant EU-funded programmes. Projects include the I-stay@home project, in which UK provider Habinteg played a leading part and which revolved around identifying, testing and indexing ICT solutions that enabled independence and an improved quality of life for disabled and older people.
In the field of energy efficiency, the EU-funded TRIME project saw collaboration among housing providers in France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands in supporting customers to save on their energy costs. Learning from this programme is currently being disseminated.
Another initiative, the low-carbon house project, led by Zurich-based architect KEOTO, focused on genuinely zero-carbon designs. These can be replicated across different geographic contexts and take into account the whole construction life-cycle. In all these projects the emphasis has been on a positive, proof-of-concept approach with dissemination of lessons throughout the network and beyond. New initiatives Currently, a research project led by Dr Gerard van Bortel of TU Delft is exploring innovative finance and governance approaches across Europe. This work will culminate in early 2018 with a publication that will contain 17 European country chapters and international comparative contributions, from the USA and Australia.
What does EFL offer?
Membership benefits include:
- Closer engagement with colleagues across Europe, creating opportunities for collaboration
- Better understanding of operating costs across political, commercial and legislative regimes
- Opportunities to share good practice and to access new markets for products and services
- Opportunities to share the costs of digitisation or other innovation and change programmes
- Staff development opportunities – making a career with participating companies more attractive for talented people
- Opportunities to learn from EFL partners in bidding for funding for housing and regeneration schemes
- Opportunities to establish dialogue with organisations who might be interested in co-investment
Early on, EFL established a subsidiary under the brand ‘Expertise’ to fulfil consultancy assignments. This has been restructured in recent months to enable this area of work to grow. Campbell Tickell expects to play an active part in the work of EFL Expertise, as well as engaging with the topic group work and live projects within the main network.
Could it be for you?
Campbell Tickell has thought carefully about the value of membership of EFL, which does require a commitment of time and energy. We’re convinced it has strong merits that will become even clearer as we come closer to leaving the EU. The benefits will be greater still if others join and take part in EFL’s collaborative work and learning.
Find out more about EFL.
This piece was originally featured in CT Brief – Issue 32.