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Westminster, London, United Kingdom

Resident participation heightened by virtual reality


Glastonbury House is owned by CityWest Homes, the City Council’s ALMO or Arms Length Management Organisation. Located in Westminster, at the heart of the City of London, the 22 storey tower was built in 1968 and contains 160 dwellings that were built for general needs. However the building now provides sheltered housing for older people and it was meeting their particular needs that inspired the project: A suite of innovative material and institutional adaptations would be applied to meet the needs of the residents. This means refurbishing at least 146 of the bed-sits, whilst Department of Health funding is being sought to enable 6 others to be converted into 10 x 1 bedroom units for ‘Extra Care’ residents.

Before refurbishment

After refurbishment (digitally rendered)

Building details

Type of building: Residential High Rise
Year of construction/ Floor area/ Operating hours: 1968
Heating and cooling / measures installed Gas-fired District CHP
Energy label/CO2 emissions Ecohomes ‘very good’ standard


Aim The aim is to surpass minimum social housing standards in a manner that provided greater support to vulnerable people through technological improvement, and through the integration of social and environmental sustainability factors.
Key points - General improvements:
A new sky lounge is to be added to the roof as a large space for the use of residents and their friends and families. A Health Centre and a Local Neighbourhood Centre will be provided on the ground level to allow delivery of services by Westminster Primary Care Trust. The once unreliable lifts are to be overhauled, digital and community TV is to be piloted and new telephone, internet and security systems will be installed. The flats are to be completely refurbished, with new kitchen units and tiling, new ventilation, floor and wall coverings and new sanitary fittings in the bathroom.

Sky lounge (digitally rendered)

- Energy and environmental improvements :
Wind energy: A Ropatec vertical axis wind turbine will be integrated in the new 23rd-storey ‘Sky Tower’ to provide residents with a zero-emissions energy source. Being vertical axis, it is noiseless and operates independent of wind direction. It has a cut in wind speed of 2m/s and no cut out, but is regulated to 14 m/s. At a site altitude of 20m and with a wind speed averaging 6.6m/s, the turbine is expected to produce approximately 5,500 kWh per annum.

Glazing: All balcony areas are to be fitted with single glazing, effectively extending the liveable area in the warmer months while providing an additional buffer to the interior during winter time. The Tower was refitted with quality double glazing five years ago.

Lighting: Most new lighting will be low-energy, although the choice of light fittings available has meant that some are incompatible with low-energy bulbs. Sensor activation will be fitted to some interior lighting. All communal hallway/staircase lighting is to be fluorescent, with timers/sensors where sufficient daylight is available to provide safe natural light during the day.

Heating system: The heating system has been completely overhauled, including connection to a gas-fired district CHP unit. Originally, residents could not regulate their heaters. Radiators have now been upgraded to include TRVs with arithetic adaptors to allow ease of use for the predominantly elderly residents. Further temperature and timing controls allow the low temperature hot water system to respond to outside temperature conditions.
Wind protection: A wind protection skirt is to be fixed to the first floor level of the building. In the new communal gardens, flora has been designed to provide a protected and pleasant space.

- Other improvements : Details of A-rated white goods are to be incorporated within tenant manuals to encourage purchase. There is a proposal to incorporate a rain water harvesting and grey water recycling system to minimise the use of mains water, for use in the communal garden, and there are also plans to include solar photovoltaics, solar hot water and a communal laundrette, although these measures are contingent upon securing additional funding. Converting the refuse chutes into sound-proof recycling stations is also proposed. The project managers decided to obtain an ‘Eco Homes’ rating, and as a result of adopting recommendations put forward, were able to improve their rating from ‘good’ to ‘very good’.

Reason for inclusion as Shining Example Glastonbury house is a Shining Example as it clearly illustrates how easily energy efficiency can be integrated within wider sustainability objectives, achieving material benefits. The semi-autonomous nature of the ‘ALMO’ CityWest Homes is providing a rich breeding ground for innovation and adaptation. The virtual reality tool developed demonstrates a commitment to accessing diverse funding streams and to raising the bar in best practice resident consultation. As a result of forging formal relationships with community and environment-oriented organisations, the refurbishment looks set to achieve true integration with wider community needs, while striving to reduce environmental impacts.


Costs &


Financing and project management :

The Glastonbury House refurbishment is being financed via CityWest Homes, with a budget of €14.48 million. ALMOs, being functionally separate from the local authority from which the bulk of their funding is sourced, are capable of entering into public-private partnerships and can source funding through other arrangements. A public-private partnership was formed and funding was secured from a variety of sources including the Westminster City Council General Fund; the Government’s Decent Homes, Capital Grants and Receipts, and Major Repairs Allowance; and other public funds.

This institutional structure allowed CityWest to seize the opportunity to pilot the project as an ‘intelligent and green’ refurbishment. It engaged the services of INTEGER, an action research network, whose expertise allowed the integration of Decent Homes works with sustainability, innovation and support for vulnerable people. Approximately €2.4 million is tied to specific Decent Homes work. Almost €3 million relates specifically to Decent Homes works which includes some, but not all of the energy efficiency related improvements. For example €36,000 was allocated to the project from a €1.7 million Community Energy Grant allowing the tower to connect to a local CHP-powered district heating system.
Wates Construction was chosen as the partnering contractor following an extensive EU procurement exercise, while Mouchel Parkman are project managing the programme on behalf of CityWest. They administered the tendering of specialised elements of the contract and CityWest benchmarked costs against similar schemes.

Benefits Key (predicted) performance data :

Space heating energy consumption :
Before refurbishment: 9,830 kWh/flat per year
After refurbishment: 7,000 kWh/m2a

Saving of around 29%

_ CO2 saved due to renewable energy integration:
2,365 kg/a


Partnership details

Consultation and participation :
The extensive involvement of residents and the wider community in the project began in May 2002. During both the demonstration and pilot phases both groups have attended meetings with the design team, CityWest Homes and Wates Construction. Design solutions were developed and tested, and the opinions and requirements of the residents have been assessed and given due weight at all stages. There have been face to face meetings with all residents and the Resident Steering Group meets monthly to act as a sounding board and a conduit for the remaining residents in the block and on the estate. Letters are delivered to each flat giving notice of resident meetings and providing updated information. Surveys covering issues such as television, information and communication services have also been conducted.
Residents have had tours of the exhibition facility set up on the ground floor and of the two demonstration flats that have been refurbished. A third flat, that better reflected the wishes of residents, was added later. Many residents have visited the flats on a number of occasions to discuss the planned refurbishment and the various options available to them.
Residents were particularly concerned about the arrangements surrounding the decanting of flats whilst works were carried out. As a result of consultations it was agreed to use vacant refurbished ‘hotel’ flats to temporarily house the residents while their own flats were refurbished.
This consultation process was developed and is being delivered in conjunction with the local Neighbourhood Office and with the Resident Steering Group, a focus group comprising 22 residents.

Virtual reality :
It was found early on in the resident meetings that many residents experienced difficulty conjuring a real sense of the planned refurbishment from abstract two dimensional drawings and codified plans. Due to the innovative nature of the pilot the Housing Corporation part-funded the development of a virtual reality model of the refurbished building.

Output of the virtual reality tool (kitchen)

This tool has allowed residents to select their own floor and navigate from the lift lobby, through a virtual representation of their own flat, after the refurbishment has occurred. The interface allows residents to select different combinations from a palette of tile and wall colours, floor finishes, and light fittings.

Output of the virtual reality tool (living room)

The tool also allows residents to record the options they have elected for their kitchen, bathroom and living space, which may be revised at a later date. Residents can also leave comments here, such as requests to leave certain aspects of their flat unchanged. The tool also provides a database for procurement and other summary information for management.

Community integration :
The new community podiatry Health Centre and gardens on the ground floor will be accessible to older people from the local community. Additionally, a range of activities are planned such as computer clubs. When combined, these facilities and activities will go some way towards the formation of social networks and combating social isolation.

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Achievements Key achievements include the innovative and extremely effective use of virtual reality to engage residents and increase acceptability of and enthusiasm for the project. However this would not have been possible was it not for the financing arrangements and partnerships which underpin the technical improvements made.

To know more



i and i limited
Contact Alison Nicholl


Organisation EuroACE
Contact for question on the case study realisation Winton Smith
Publish date 24 October 2006

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