Flutter Shutter: Keeping energy-efficiency in the family
Sisters Rechelle, Nadine and Rhianne from Liverpool are on a mission, supported by Centrica’s Energy for Tomorrow programme, to save energy in social housing with their innovative energy-efficient shutters.
After experiencing the brutal impact of fuel poverty as kids, Rechelle Davis and her sisters Nadine and Rhianne Griffin got fired up to fight it. They set up Flutter Shutter to help maximize energy-efficiency, cut waste and aid regeneration with their good-looking shutters.
In December 2020, Centrica’s Energy for Tomorrow programme awarded Flutter Shutter a six-figure grant over three years. As part of the People & Planet Plan, Energy for Tomorrow supports the innovations, start-ups and community projects that will help the UK achieve net zero. The sisters tell us about the significance this funding – plus the mentorship that came with it – and how it was the turning point for their business.
What is Flutter Shutter?
It’s basically a plantation shutter made from recyclable plastics and PVC, that prevents heat and energy loss but cleverly still allows natural light in at the same time. Existing shutters only work when the slats are closed. But who wants to sit in the dark just to save a little bit of energy? So we came up with a solution that insulates and allows natural light in – and still looks like the attractive shutters that people aspire to, so it aids regeneration too.
What inspired you to enter in this industry?
Our upbringing – our parents are amazing, but they struggled financially sometimes, and winter was always hard. We lived in a really cold council house - we only had a little heater and single glazed windows. Back in the 80s, homes were often draughty too. We want to help people in similar circumstances, while staying environmentally conscious.
Rechelle and Nadine, you started by qualifying as Domestic Energy Assessors – how did that experience inspire Flutter Shutter?
We saw first-hand how fuel poverty is a big problem. It’s just heart-breaking, seeing elderly people having to choose between heating and eating. Or people with kids – one woman waited for her children to finish eating, and all she had to eat was what they left on their plates. It’s just devastating.
What’s the ambition for Flutter Shutter?
We’re aiming at the social housing sector, and we want it to be a recommendation on Energy Performance Certificates. Right now, blinds, shutters and curtains are considered variable measures (not fixed like boilers and radiators). We want Flutter Shutter to be recognised as a fixed measure because it needs to be fitted by a qualified installer. You can’t just easily take them off.
How much energy can Flutter Shutter save?
We worked with Liverpool John Moores University to create a prototype and were thrilled when early tests showed it saved a massive 54% of energy. It’s a much more convenient alternative for councils to replacing windows with Low E glass, with none of the upheaval of ripping out old windows, the waste it creates and then the cost of plastering and painting afterwards. Flutter Shutter could act as double or even triple glazing for a fraction of the cost.
How did you hear about Energy for Tomorrow?
We’d been going for seven years and had so many setbacks – enough that we’d got to the point where we were ready to give up. Then we found out about Energy for Tomorrow from the Knowledge Transfer Network, and it was a glimmer of hope. It was a last-ditch attempt really.
How did the pitch go?
They really put us through our paces. We actually pitched twice. The first time we were shortlisted to one of four companies, three of which would get funding. And we were the one company that didn’t! It’s so much stress and emotional turmoil.
It’s worse than X-Factor!
They said it was because we hadn’t asked for enough money. And they were absolutely right - we would’ve crashed within the first year - so we looked at our business plan again, had another think about the numbers, then asked for more. And we got it!
What will the funding be used for?
Testing the prototype in a pilot scheme, which will involve implementing Flutter Shutter in five properties and monitoring them for 6-9 months, so that’s going to be costly. And we’ll need to use some of it to apply for the patent too.
What other help have you had?
So much, especially with things we knew nothing about, like imports, patents, insurance and all the health and safety requirements you have to meet. They’ve given us loads of ideas and are constantly opening doors for us. The British Gas sales teams have given us invaluable insight into what housing associations and social landlords are looking for too.
Is there anything you’ve not had from Energy for Tomorrow that you could benefit from?
Anything that crops up is sorted literally like that [clicks fingers]. They don’t waste any time at all and are always on the ball. This is how a mentorship should be.
So the mentorship is as valuable as the money?
Honestly, without the mentorship the cash would be nothing. There are so many aspects of the industry that we wouldn’t know without it - it’s pivotal to making us a successful business.
How is working with family?
We distinguish well between work and family time, and we find it easier to say something if there is an issue. Because we’re sisters, the trust is automatically there. We’re really close knit, and when it was tough a few years ago that really served us well.
Is it challenging working in such a male-dominated industry?
In the beginning it was hard. We got sexist comments and there was a lot of ego to deal with - but we just let our work talk for itself.
How would you encourage more women into the industry?
Women within the industry should connect a lot more to share information. We were part of a really helpful group until Covid stopped it.
Has the pandemic had any other impacts?
It slowed things down massively. We had a Chinese investor who pulled out
in December 2019 and we didn’t get the Energy for Tomorrow funding until December 2020 so we were halted for a full year. It’s still having an impact now with delays in supplies of materials for the case study.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Financial. We invested around £50,000 of our own money and couldn’t go any further without funding, and we didn’t get it for a long time. We spent about 3-4 years with nothing, constantly pitching and looking EVERYWHERE. It was demoralising because we had to go on benefits, and we were ready to call it a day for the sake of our mental health. We would have given up without the Centrica funding.
What have been your proudest moments?
Just keeping going when it was tough and doing this as sisters. And obviously getting the funding!
What’s your future ambition for Flutter Shutter?
Our 10-year plan is to build eco homes eventually, for poor people who need them. With Flutter Shutter installed, of course!