How do you cool down when your home is as hot as an oven? Link Wentworth asked its resident community this question as they co-designed the ‘Shelter, Don’t Swelter!’ campaign in collaboration with Evolve Housing, Hume Community Housing, Penrith and Hawkesbury councils, Western Sydney University and social housing residents.
Heat is often an issue hidden behind closed doors, but it has a huge impact on people’s health and finances.
Vanessa Tomas, Sustainable Communities Officer, Link Wentworth
The sobering reality we face is a future where 50-degree summer days are regular events in Western Sydney.
While the design of new homes is adapting to a changing climate, that is cold comfort for the people who currently live in homes that feel like heat boxes.
With 6,400 homes serving over 10,000 residents, Link Wentworth is one of Australia’s largest community housing providers (CHPs), managing properties owned by private landlords, local councils, investors, the NSW Government, and owning a small number themselves. Link Wentworth’s portfolio ranges from multi-unit apartment complexes to freestanding houses.
Finding ways to keep these homes cool during a heatwave has been a focus for Link Wentworth’s team, who know too well from talking to their residents that it is not as simple as switching on the air conditioning.
As Vanessa Tomas, Link Wentworth’s Sustainable Communities Officer, says: “Our residents often can’t afford to install an air conditioner or a ceiling fan. And many of our residents are already navigating energy poverty, which means even if they do have air conditioning, they may not be able to afford to use it.”
“We have many residents who have experienced disadvantage or live with disability and may not have the same learning capacity around heat and cooling. This creates vulnerability around wellbeing and exacerbates their existing health conditions,” says Michele Mullineaux, Link Wentworth’s Sustainable Employment Officer.
Looking for ways to support resident wellbeing, Link Wentworth’s Sustainable Communities Team secured a grant to develop ‘Shelter, Don’t Swelter!’. This simple but powerful campaign was co-designed with residents – and Link Wentworth’s team emphasises the importance of that co-design process. “Our residents came together to teach us and teach each other how to keep cool,” Vanessa says.
Link Wentworth, in partnership with Penrith City Council, kick-started the project with a workshop with a range of residents from different regions, dwelling types and life stages to find out what they do to keep cool during heat waves. Those top tips, together with science-backed research from Western Sydney University and an online survey, formed the basis for the campaign.
Many of the tips unearthed by Link Wentworth are not obvious to people unaccustomed to living in heat. For example, opening windows to let in the breeze makes a home hotter. Appliances, even toasters and kettles, generate heat even when they aren’t in use, and closing blinds or curtains before the weather warms up makes a big difference.
We’ve faced many challenges during this project – Covid, floods and fires, and then a La Niña weather system that has taken the community’s focus away from urban heat. But we are now ready with the resources to help our residents during the next heat wave.
Michele Mullineaux, Sustainable Employment Officer, Link Wentworth
“Residents suggested lots of clever ideas, from placing a bowl of ice in front of fans to laying down a cool towel on the bed before you go to sleep,” Vanessa says. These tips were translated into a series of resources from fact sheets and videos to a fun paper hand fan. The resources are being used by community housing providers and local governments around Western Sydney.
Link Wentworth now sends text messages ahead of hotter days, reminding residents of the co-designed tips and the actions they can take to stay cool. Link Wentworth is also training its client service officers and maintenance teams, so they can share cooling strategies when they are in conversation with residents. “It’s not just one campaign or the responsibility of one team. It’s about our whole organisation thinking differently about heat,” Michele says.
The ‘Shelter, Don’t Swelter!’ campaign will continue to spark conversations between Link Wentworth’s team and our residents. “We know we are much more effective at getting our message out when it’s part of a direct conversation,” Michele says.
Video: Western Sydney Heat and Social Housing Project - Link Wentworth
Video: How to Stay Cool This Summer - Link Wentworth