Partnership working in North Yorkshire reaches coldest homes

CHARITIES and organisations have been banding together this winter to bring an end to fuel poverty.

Warm and Well in North Yorkshire has been running since last year county-wide and thanks to successful partnership working, is reaching households and residents who need support this winter.

Fuel poverty is a national issue but on a regional level it affects over 26,000 homes annually. The project has been able to reach some of these homes and bring a range of interventions from new boilers, to repaired windows, to radiator valves, to draught excluders – meaning great work is being done to reduce these levels and raise wider awareness of the challenge.

Funded by British Gas Energy Trust, Warm and Well is a collective of over 20 organisations mostly from the charity sector, but also working with local authorities, home improvement agencies, social landlords and utility companies.

The support through the project has been made even easier to access through the recent launch of an online referral platform and also a helpline.

The referral platform, found at www.first4contact.org, has enabled a Single Point of Contact for North Yorkshire to be piloted, which means a single point of access for issues and concerns relating to winter health and colder weather.

It provides a user-friendly form which can be completed by frontline workers and, importantly, it is also open for public self-referrals. The helpline is also open five days a week, based at Carers Resource in Harrogate and available on 01423 740 001.

If households are struggling to afford their gas and electric bills, are unable to heat their home, or are worried about winter’s effect on their health, they are able to complete a quick and simple referral into the project for practical support.

Candice Dowson, project managing Warm and Well, said: “The partnership has been able to create an excellent system which streamlines the process of referring. Now residents can refer themselves easily for the support they need, professionals can also refer in, and the project can guarantee a response within 7 days.

“It could really revolutionise winter weather work in North Yorkshire.”

Warm and Well has been further successful in building trusting relationships with clients who have sometimes struggled to find support.

In one such case, Mary had been without heating or hot water for 5 years and relied entirely on portable heaters, sleeping downstairs where it was warmer, and boiling the kettle to wash up. This had significantly impacted on her health during this time and her energy had been exhausted trying to find help.

Mary finally wrote to her local councillor who put her in touch with Warm and Well. This referral was dealt with by Yorkshire Housing who was able to provide a home assessment and source suitable funding for Mary.

Since then, grants have been sourced from both Warm and Well and also Foundations Independent Living Trust, and Mary has a new boiler and with it a new lease of life – heating and hot water for the first time in 5 years.

Mary said: “I didn’t think I would ever be able to get help. It is unbelievable, I had almost accepted that nothing could be done. Other organisations wanted me to take out credit agreements which I couldn’t afford, and when I said I couldn’t afford it they said they couldn’t help and didn’t know who I should try next.

“I feel like I have been given my life back, I am warm in my home and after 5 years I now have hot water and don’t have to use a kettle.”

Volunteers are also playing a dynamic role within the project as part of the draught excluders campaign.

They have been hard at work knitting and stitching draught excluders of a wide range which they have then kindly donated to the project, which in turn are given out to cold homes and people during home visits and events.

Lunch and craft clubs and support groups are just some of those who have donated their work to the project so far, with more donations on the way from local businesses.

Candice said: “The draught excluder campaign has really struck a chord with the generous people of North Yorkshire and we are overwhelmed by the support we have received from a wide range of people, clubs, and businesses.

“What is really lovely to see are the smiles on the faces of those making the excluders, which match the smiles of those who receive them. It really is making a huge difference.”

Mental health support groups in Hambleton donated over 30 excluders in one go to the project, and a Stokesley crafts group made 17. These are now being divided up between the partners delivering work across the districts.

Kind donations from utility companies such as Northern Gas Networks and Yorkshire Water have also been made to the project, from carbon monoxide detectors to water-saving measures, meaning Warm and Well is also ensuring vulnerable households can stay safe and save on their energy bills too.

Candice said: “We have seen the project bring support to those who really need it most and winter is not over yet. We’re encouraging families and individuals who hear about Warm and Well to come forward and get in touch or use the online form.

“We’re also keen for frontline workers to be aware of the partnership’s work so they know where to signpost to should they come across households in need. We are here until April and also next winter too.”

The breadth of work taking place within the project has enabled homes like Mary’s to stay warm.

Mary said: “There should be more schemes like this one that can reach other people like me, so no one has to go through what I went through.

“I can keep warm without being frightened to put the heating on, and I can open my curtains and let the light in. This project has changed my life.”