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Q&A: How did Energy Fairies benefit from the Low Carbon Eco-lnnovatory?

The Local Growth Hub’s Low Carbon Eco-lnnovatory programme supports the growth of businesses in the Liverpool City Region that are working on ideas to reduce CO2 emissions. We spoke Nadine Griffin, director of local business Energy Fairies, to find out how the programme helped them…

What does Energy Fairies do?

Energy Fairies started out in 2012 as Halogen Fairies, carrying out energy assessments for social housing and private homeowners in order for their houses to have energy improvements made, such as the installation of new boilers, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and so on.

During the three years we carried out the assessments, we saw first-hand just how inefficient energy-wise a lot of our housing stock is in the UK. This was where we first came up with the idea of designing energy-efficient thermal plantation shutters.

We knew plantation shutters already existed on the market, but that they only work when the slats/louvres are closed. Nobody wants to sit in the dark of a daytime to prevent heat and energy loss, so we wanted to find a way around that.

We came up with the ‘Flutter Shutter’, a plantation shutter made from PVC and recycled plastics. Sitting directly behind the shutter is a thermal polymer clear roller blind that allows the slats/louvres to be fully open to allow light in, but that also saves heat and energy loss. There are also draft proof runners down the side of the shutter, which allow the clear thermal roller blind to sit inside so it is completely air tight.

How many staff does your company employ?

We are a family run business. There are three directors including myself, my sister Rechelle and our younger sister Rhianne.

What challenges was your company facing prior to accessing Growth Hub support?

Before we received support through the Low Carbon Eco-lnnovatory, we had an idea and a goal but not much else. We didn’t know what avenues of support or funding where available for us to access. The Low Carbon Eco-lnnovatory helped us to secure initial funding for marketing support for the business and then we also secured a £6,000 grant from Innovate UK with their help. The grant allowed us to carry out concept tests on the Flutter Shutter, which enabled us to prove it worked before we went on to have a prototype designed and made. We have since received further support from LCR4.0 programme, in which we are designing our second prototype.

What support did your company receive from the Local Growth Hub?

The Low Carbon Eco-lnnovatory, LJMU – who are a partner on the programme – and the LCR4.0 programme have all provided us with amazing support, from marketing to grant application support, testing and further development of a second prototype.

Our first prototype of Flutter Shutter is currently being tested at LJMU Exemplar Houses as part of a student’s degree. This testing is invaluable to us as it would otherwise cost us a lot of money, which as a small start-up we don’t have. Our second prototype is also being developed with the support of LCR4.0, in which there is another student carrying out CAD and research as part of his degree too.

What impact did the support you received have on your business?

The impact on our business has been phenomenal, there is no way we would be where we are today without the support of the Low Carbon Eco-lnnovatory, LJMU and LCR4.0. We are extremely grateful and humbled to have received such amazing support from within our city region.

We were asked to be a panellist at an event held by LCR4.0 that was centred around women in STEM industries, which we gladly accepted. We have also attended an all-girls school with LCR4.0 to hold talks with the pupils to try to encourage them to take careers in STEM. As we work in a male-dominated industry, we would love to see more women getting involved and so these events are great for us to be a part of and we’re honoured to have been asked.

What are your company's plans for the future as a result of this support?

Once the testing is complete on the first prototype and the second prototype has been developed and tested, we can then proceed to market. As this is the first time we have developed a product with a view to taking it to market, it is completely new territory for us. Our target markets are the social housing sector, as we know their houses are very energy-inefficient.

The Flutter Shutter will help to improve the energy efficiency of the houses and, with the test results, we aim to make installing the Flutter Shutter more cost effective than changing/updating windows in the properties. We also want to target conservation areas and listed buildings in which windows can't be changed. As well as being energy-efficient while allowing natural light through, the Flutter Shutter is aesthetically pleasing, durable, easy to clean and helps to increase privacy.

You can find out more about the Low Carbon Eco-lnnovatory programme on the Local Growth Hub website.