In the final instalment of the Historic Environment Forum’s Sector Resilience Interviews series focussed on Climate Change, we speak to Kris Karslake, Sustainability Policy and Programme Manager at Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your role.

I joined Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation as Sustainability Policy and Programme Manager in May 2023. I’ve worked with the foundation to introduce a policy that progresses the organisation towards having an overall positive impact on the planet, adapting to climate change. The organisation is grappling with how our strategy can best align with the Science Based Targets, Corporate Net-Zero Standard.

Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation’s role is to manage assets and investments to generate income that enables us to care for the Garden City estate and support our local community, providing access to green spaces and a range of culture, heritage, learning and leisure facilities. We fund and support local organisations working to improve everyone’s quality of life and meet our charitable objectives.

What can you tell us about the aims of your work on the Spirella Building?

The iconic Spirella Building in Letchworth is a Grade 2* Listed Building. The Spirella Corset Company of Great Britain built and expanded the building between 1912 and 1920. And during World War 2, production was expanded to include parachutes.

This building was refurbished in the 1990s, bringing it back from disrepair for use as commercial offices. There were limited building fabric upgrades, resulting in a building that isn’t efficient to heat. Additionally, the mechanical and electrical equipment is now dated.  Therefore, we have instructed expert architectural consultant Architype to carry out a holistic review of the building to develop an effective Net Zero Carbon pathway. Principally, to establish what fabric upgrades will maintain the heritage aspects of the building and reduce heat loss. Also, to address how mechanical and electrical equipment be sequentially replaced, and supplemented with renewable energy technologies.

How does this contribute to climate resilience in the heritage sector?

On an organisational level, the building contributes significantly to Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation’s Scope 1 and 2 carbon footprint, since it uses large quantities of electricity and gas.

For the wider heritage sector, we hope to add another historic building retrofit to the list of case studies available to others to review.

How will you know this work has been successful?

The project is phased. Success in the initial phase will be a pathway report that meets the approval of our executive director for Property, our Board of Trustees and Governors.  

By 2030, success will be the provision of office space within the building that can be considered as Net Zero Carbon in operation.  By 2050, success will be the whole building operating as Net Zero Carbon in operation.  Operational carbon will be measured through our energy procurement contracts, and electricity and gas metering. Success will be when the net carbon impact from the operation of the building is zero.

Whilst the focus is primarily on operational carbon of the building, other aspects will be considered throughout the refurbishment phase, such as biodiversity enhancement, water use reduction and indoor air quality improvements. We’ll consider adapting existing key performance indicator tools to measure the success of this.

Postcard of the "Spirella Factory, Letchworth" (c) Letchworth Garden City Collection
How can colleagues find out more?

Since the project has only just begun, there is no further information available yet. But Architype have written about a similar recent project for the Entopia building in Cambridge.

Overall, what do you think is most crucial for ensuring a resilient heritage sector?

There is a growing tension between operational energy efficiency, and preserving heritage features of buildings. However, more evidence is becoming available that identifies possibilities to find a balance between these two conflicting areas through sensitive building refurbishment. Additionally, there are fantastic examples of adaptive reuse of heritage buildings, which means that rather than crumbling into disrepair, our heritage buildings remain standing proud into the future.

This Sector Resilience interview was shared by Kris as part of our Heritage Sector Resilience Plan activities. 

Follow the link below to explore the rest of the series:

Sector Resilience Interviews – Historic Environment Forum