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Rapid evidence base development to support social housing retrofit and decarbonisation (Advert Reference: RDF22/EE/ABE/WATSON)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Richard Watson, Dr Tara Hipwood, Dr Lesley McIntyre  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

It is well-documented, that in developed countries a key component of our efforts to address the climate crisis challenge is to significantly decarbonise our existing building stock. In order to meet our Net Zero carbon target by 2050, an estimated 23m homes in the UK require retrofitting, with potential associated benefits in terms of occupant comfort and well-being, alleviating fuel poverty and transitioning to a ‘greener’ economy. Social Housing providers stand to be at the forefront of this drive to decarbonisation, with challenging targets already in place, funding commencing through the government’s ‘decarbonising social housing fund’, and sufficient scale of ownership to support the development of skills and supply chains. However, the sector also presents specific challenges, including the diversity of the stock, the vulnerability (financial and physical) of many tenants, and the responsibility to demonstrate value for money when spending public funds. As such, the sector lacks clear, authoritative and actionable information on which to base strategic, investment, design, and technological decisions that address these challenges. While data, information and knowledge regarding the design, implementation and evaluation of retrofit is emerging through isolated projects, the dissemination and sharing of results is ad hoc, unstructured and may be incomplete. This significantly impacts organisations’ ability to learn from previous examples, undermining their confidence in decision-making regarding future projects, and encouraging social housing providers to hold-back and wait for pathways to become clearer.       

This project aims to understand how the outcomes, data, information and knowledge developed through retrofit projects in the social housing sector can be more effectively and rapidly captured and shared. Speed and agility are essential in the context of a rapidly-changing landscape of pilot projects, legislative and regulatory frameworks, market and technology developments, but this must be balanced with provision of reliable evidence to support decision making. This requires a multi-stakeholder approach, bringing together the expertise and information needs of all those involved in driving the retrofit agenda, including strategic decision makers, asset managers, designers, constructors, tenants, project managers and maintenance personnel. We anticipate that the project will iteratively understand, propose, define and evaluate methodologies for gathering and sharing evidence using a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches. The research will explore data and information requirements, their capture and analysis, how and from where information is obtained, and how stakeholders may interact with information across project lifecycles. Candidates should have a working knowledge of accepted industry processes and practice, where stakeholder teams come together temporarily to design, deliver and (sometimes) evaluate projects and then move on.

The research will contribute to the expansive field of architectural and building science literature examining the decarbonisation of our built environment.

Northumbria University has strong links with the regional social housing, design, project management and construction sectors and established networks, offering research opportunities for stakeholder engagement and input through workshops, interviews and access to live retrofit pilots and projects. The supervisory team combines expertise across decarbonisation and retrofit, architectural design, post-occupancy evaluation and information/digital modelling.

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr. Richard Watson.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Azizi, Z, Davidson, G, Hipwood, T, Lilley, S, Watson, R (2021) Decarbonising Social Housing in North East England, Research commissioned by North East England Climate Coalition. Final Report in preparation
Hipwood, T 2021, 'Understanding low-carbon housing retrofit within a wider nexus of practices', Journal of Architecture, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 453-474.
Collins, A, Galli, A, Hipwood, T & Murthy, A 2020, 'Living within a One Planet reality: the contribution of personal Footprintcalculators', Environmental Research Letters, vol. 15, no. 2, 025008.
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