Origins & Development of the STBA 



Back in 2011, the government was beginning to promote the Green Deal and there were intentions to “retrofit” the entire building stock in the UK to make it more energy efficient. People who knew about older buildings quickly realised that these lofty ambitions posed a threat to our traditional building stock. Early conversations between Neil May, John Edwards, Rory Cullen, Seamus Hannah, Caroline Rye, Jonathan Garlick, Russell Smith, and others resulted in a decision to set up the STBA.

In 2012 the STBA was formally established - early members included CITB, National Trust, SPAB, English Heritage, Historic Scotland, RIBA, CIAT, RICS, UCL Energy Institute and GHA. A constitution was agreed: the STBA became an independent programme of the Sustainable Development Foundation, controlled by  Steering Group with three co-chairs - initially Roger Curtis, Neil May and Sam Allwinkle - representing, Heritage, Sustainability and Industry respectively - the three “pillars of the Alliance”. A set of aims & objectives was also agreed.  

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Responsible Retrofit


Under Neil May’s leadership in 2012 the STBA won backing from DECC to produce the Responsible Retrofit of Traditional Buildings, a report which  built on an initial gap analysis backed by CITB and English Heritage. The report analysed the state of existing knowledge in the retrofit of traditional buildings, identified gaps in many areas of understanding, policy, skills & training, and made a series of recommendations to address these issues.


This approach has set the agenda for all our ensuing work, correcting standards where they were inappropriate for traditional buildings, improving policy in this area and providing guidance where it was completely lacking. The report led to significant funding from DECC for the development of an interactive Tool (the Guidance Wheel), and for work on moisture and thermal standards.



Dissemination and development


In early 2013, Nigel Griffiths joined as the STBA’s Director, which enabled the STBA not only to expand its policy work but also to take its message to a wide range of organisations and events across the UK, ensuring that we became recognised as the knowledge leader in this field. The STBA also co-hosted its first conference, working closely with SPAB to deliver a full day’s programme on energy efficiency, now an annual event.


The same year also marked the beginning of work on training and standards. Directly as a result of our efforts, the Green Deal Provider Guidance included particular provisions to address the needs of traditional buildings. Work also began with CITB on the development of an NVQ level 3 course in the retrofit of traditional buildings.



Guidance from the STBA


In 2014, STBA launched the Guidance Wheel, a comprehensive online tool enabling users to explore the links between retrofit measures, understand the connections between fabric, services and building users, and to assess technical risk, heritage impacts and any risks to achieving the intended savings. The Wheel is underpinned by an extensive Knowledge Base of peer-reviewed publications.The project was funded by DECC, inspired by Bill Bordass and delivered principally by Neil May, Isabel Carmona, Adrian Leaman and Caroline Rye, and programmed by Peter Cook.

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This was followed in 2015 by a draft Moisture Guidance (now a BSI White Paper), written by Neil May and Chris Sanders, and later that year by Guidance on Solid Wall Insulation produced for the City of Bristol - at that time Europe’s “Green Capital” - again led by Neil May together with our Technical Director Nick Heath. See Research & Guidance.


In 2016 we published a guide to “Planning Responsible Retrofit”, which sets out the basic principles of this approach and explains the key risk factors. This was followed by a short paper on different ways in which the term “Whole House” can be understood in retrofit. 2016 also saw the first series of our 5 half-day Masterclasses on specific retrofit topics, which were presented in London over several months by STBA’s technical experts

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Where have we got to?


We have achieved much in a short space of time:

  • The Responsible Retrofit approach is accepted in parts of BEIS & DCLG, and by Welsh Government

  • The “Each Home Counts” Report (2017) advocates a Whole House Approach to domestic retrofit

  • STBA’s guidance tools are widely regarded as industry-leading

  • The STBA’s work is now recognised internationally

  • SAP is due to be revised to reflect traditional buildings better

  • A new Standard for retrofit (PAS 2035) is under development

  • The BSi White Paper on Moisture in Buildings was published in early 2107 and consequently BS5250 is being
    completely revised on this basis

  • Industry is beginning to change its approach, though many organisations continue to place profit ahead of
    long term sustainability.


Perhaps most importantly, and rarely recorded, we have maintained a consistent and agreed approach to the sustainability of traditional buildings, backed by a wide constituency including all the key technical and professional bodies in this field. It is this which enables us to move forward with confidence.


There have been some changes to personnel too. In 2016 John Preston took over from Roger Curtis as Heritage Chair and Peter Draper became our Sustainability Chair. Having led the organisation for a year as CEO, Neil May retired from his executive role and the STBA is now led by Nigel Griffiths with support from Nick Heath and Debbie Mauger. The STBA is now governed by the Board which includes representatives of our key Patrons - the National Trust and Historic England, and the range of our not-for-profit and commercial members continues to grow.  


The Future


Our work in policy, guidance, training and dissemination can be broken down into three categories - which of course overlap:

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Context relates to the challenge of defining sustainability for traditional buildings, given that heritage and human health are both often ignored in UK and international policy on the built environment. The STBA advocates the broadest possible approach to sustainability, to prevent “unintended consequences”.


Continuity includes a range of subjects familiar to conservation professionals, such as the recording and valuing of heritage on “low status” buildings, and the importance of maintenance in achieving dry and functioning buildings.


Change covers the work on responsible retrofit which STBA has championed since its inception. Our work here continues to focus on how we can best adapt and change our traditional buildings to respond to the sustainability agenda,  through the development of an enhanced retrofit standard, protocol for retrofit survey, and examples of best practice.


Many challenges remain in both policy and practice. As well as responding to the modern sustainability agenda, the values inherent in our traditional built environment can themselves inform sustainability. These include:

  • the use of materials with low embodied energy and pollution

  • bio-regional materials and designs

  • repair and maintenance as key activities

  • traditional and craft skills

  • the importance of aesthetics

At a time of mass urbanisation and ever-increasing use of technology:, understanding these aspects of the traditional built environment can help us to plan effectively for the future. We therefore also have the challenge of communicating these values to wider society, and particularly to our planners and policymakers.


Responsible Retrofit - STBA Guidance Wheel & Knowledge Centre  . . . . . 

STBAWheel - an interactive retrofit guidance tool that allows the user to customise the context and selected measures to reveal guidance on specific types of properties and conditions.

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