Retrofit for the future

Fresh from the recent success of its Greenleaf Project, Aston Group is setting new standards when it comes to sustainable building management

The winter of 1962- 63 lives long in the memory. As early as December, powerlines were downed and lakes and rivers froze over as the UK experienced plummeting temperatures. In some places, gale force winds brought snow more than six feet deep, blocking roads and railways, and leaving entire villages stranded. It was not until 6 March that the country reported a morning without frost, nearly three months after the initial snowfall.

Later referred to as the ‘Big Freeze’, it was in the wake of those devastating winter months that Aston Group was first established, one year later in March 1964. Its founders were Evan Ivey Sr, his brother-in-law Brian Durrant and Frank Dalton. Engineers first and foremost, all three recognised the need to provide people with a properly designed heating system using proven, quality components. Then trading as Aston Heating, these components were fitted by the company’s experienced professionals and backed by a no-nonsense guarantee, with maintenance engineers on call to keep the system running at all times.

Now a leading building services and facilities management company for both residential and commercial clients, Aston Group has been setting standards for efficiency, innovation and quality ever since. “Our ethos and expectation is that we will go the extra mile to ensure service delivery and satisfaction,” explains Aston Group Managing Director Alan Thomas. “Aston Group was founded on the core values of trust, quality, respect, and working together. It’s our commitment to those values that we believe sets us apart from our competitors.”

Central to Aston Group’s long-term business plan is a mission to provide a quality and socially responsible service. “We have a holistic approach to managing projects across our mechanical, electrical and construction divisions,” Alan explains. “Over the past ten years, Aston Group has been quick to adapt to changing demands in the market. As part of our growth we’ve increased our facilities management, construction, electrical services and renewable technologies, of which building safety and sustainability sits at the very core. By being agile and adapting early to the changes required to create more modern sustainable housing, we’ve positioned ourselves at the forefront of this exciting phase in our industry. Working alongside our clients and partners, using modern techniques and technology, we create sustainable solutions that help deliver energy-efficient housing, reduce carbon emissions and realise net zero targets.”

In November 2021, Aston Group was nominated for the Partnership and Collaboration of the Year Award at the edie Sustainability Leaders Awards in recognition of its work on the Greenleaf Project. A partnership with Waltham Forest Council, the project involved the retro- conversion of a semi-detached Edwardian terrace house on Walthamstow’s Greenleaf Road. Built on the advent on the 20th Century, shortly after the death of Queen Victoria, the four-bedroom property typifies much of the area’s outdated housing stock, with an Energy Performance Certificate rating far-beneath the national average.

Enter Aston Group. “As part of our work on Greenleaf, we retrofitted the property with the latest environmental technology,” Alan says. “We conducted thermal upgrades to the walls, roof, windows, and added underfloor insulation with the intent of reducing heat loss through the floor by up to 74 percent. We combined that with a series of service upgrades, such as the addition of a mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery, designed to deliver fresh air throughout the indoor areas of the property. We also replaced the pre-existing gas boiler with an air-source heat pump, installed LED lighting and added PV solar capable of generating approximately 2850 kWh of electricity per year. As a result, this unassuming Edwardian terrace has been transformed into a state-of-the-art green home of the future, taking it from an EPC E to an A.”

The Greenleaf Project serves as a showcase for how technological improvements can revitalise our much-loved homes, reduce emissions and save money for householders, and its success shows a direction for councils and boroughs nationwide as they look to achieve their net zero targets. “Over the years we have always championed sustainability, from servicing, maintaining and installing solar panels on council properties to designing energy efficient lighting solutions for Local Authorities,” Alan continues. “It wasn’t new to us, but in our deepening climate emergency, our industry and the services we provide have been brought to the fore. The Greenleaf Project is a positive story for us, one that’s given us a platform to help educate and inform others about how best to install energy efficient measures, and helping to place Aston Group as a leader in the drive to make housing stock across the country more sustainable.”

For Aston Group, it’s an achievement that would not have been possible were it not for the positive culture that exists among its more than 140 employees. “We pride ourselves on looking after our people,” Alan admits. “We understand that without our people we wouldn’t be here, and we know how important it is to keep good communication with them, respect each other and work together as a single team.

“With the emergence of Covid-19, this has been challenging, and hasn’t enabled us to be together as much as we might want,” Alan admits. “Many of our staff were understandably nervous to go out to work in other peoples’ homes, but the services we provide can’t be put on hold. We had to continue visiting homes, servicing boilers and maintaining residents’ properties. That being the case, it was our responsibility to provide our staff with everything they might need to continue doing their jobs safely. Thankfully, with strong systems in place, we’ve still been able to carry out 100 percent compliance for gas services throughout the pandemic. It’s a huge achievement of which we’re very proud, and marks our tenth year of 100 percent gas compliance with Waltham Forest Council.”

Alan remains fully aware that the issue of Covid-19 hasn’t gone away. “We continue to be cautious, with all our staff still following the same procedures,” he says. “We have to be mindful and respect each resident, recognising that each one has their own needs, and we do our best to make sure that this ethos filters down through all our staff, all the way to our apprentices.”

As dawn breaks on 2022, Aston Group is looking to bolster its growing reputation within sustainable development. The company has secured approximately £4 million worth of contracts to undertake further decarbonisation projects for Waltham Forest Council, the largest of which is the Southfield Court Project, intended to reduce emissions at the 40- bed Southfield Court hostel, situated in nearby Leytonstone. A ‘fabric first’ project, Aston Group will be upgrading the thermal efficiency of the hostel through the deployment of fabric improvements, alongside the utilisation of heat pumps, solar PV and heat recovery ventilation. The project will coincide with a further contract to upgrade insulation and incorporate renewable technologies across another 100 properties throughout the London borough, with Aston Group’s initial surveys already underway.

From this strong foundation, Aston Group now hopes to kick on as businesses and clients stage their post-pandemic recovery. “We hope the situation with Covid-19 will improve over time, and we look forward to continuing to grow the business and our client base,” Alan says. “Long term, the goal for Aston Group is to be part of a retrofitting future. We’re excited about the opportunity to tackle this issue, and will continue to develop the skills and competencies across all of our divisions to deliver our work to a high standard.”