Mine was the winter of 2010/11, which heralded the coldest December in Britain since records began with a mean temperature of -1oC and widespread hardship throughout the country.
Sometimes there are some climate events that stick in the mind, the kind that changes the way you plan for bad weather in the future.
Leeds was not immune from this and many of our services experienced higher demand than usual, particularly those assisting vulnerable people or people facing fuel poverty (spending more than 10% of household income on heating and electricity).
The challenge was there: how do we help the most vulnerable people to reduce their fuel bills and prevent people from falling into fuel poverty?
Leeds City Council got together with a number of its partners in the third sector, including Care & Repair Leeds, Groundwork Leeds and Leeds Community Foundation to submit a bid to the Department of Health’s Warm Homes Healthy People Fund to provide enhanced services for households during winter 2011/12.
Even though winter 2011/12 was not as severe as the previous year, the fund of £232,800 helped many people and supported thousands more. For example, an 80 year old woman was ready to be discharged from hospital following treatment, but her heating heating or hot water. The fund allowed the Warm Homes Service, run by Care & Repair Leeds to fix the heating system so that she could be discharged to a warm home that same week.
Since then, even though central Government no longer funds the scheme, Leeds City Council Public Health has continued to provide enhanced winter services, culminating in this year’s Stay Winter Wise Campaign with a range of help for people to keep warm including:
- The Warm Homes Service: managed by Care and Repair Leeds helping homeowners/ private tenants by repairing/ servicing heating systems if someone in the household is vulnerable or suffers from a cold related illness. Contact: 0113 3918336/ firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Green Doctor scheme: run by Groundwork Leeds, undertake additional home visits for low income households including elderly and those with young children, providing face-to-face practical advice on reducing energy bills or basic energy efficiency measures such as draught-proofing, reflective radiator panels and pipe lagging. Contact: 0113 2380601/ email@example.com
- Chapeltown CAB’s Fuel and Income Advice Survey: to low income homes will be re-starting soon. Contact: 0113 2629479
- Grants of up to £2,500 for 35 local community groups and agencies: were awarded to support vulnerable people during winter and reducing social isolation. The scheme administered by Leeds Community Foundation, has supported projects including clubs and activities, home visits, befriending schemes and help for rough sleepers, all taking place between January and March 2015.
- Winter wellbeing packs: for vulnerable households, funded by multiple partners, including Public Health, Area Support Teams and Clinical Commissioning Groups .The aim of the packs is to build cold weather resilience and they contain practical items such as hot water bottles and thermal socks. These packs were then distributed through channels such as the neighbourhood networks.
The campaign is unique in the way that partners work together to refer to and promote each-others services. For example, this year around thirty staff and volunteers from organisations which had received winter wellbeing grants, were provided with winter warmth training, to help them assist people with energy bills and refer them to the partner schemes such as the Warm Homes Service and the Green Doctor.
Last winter, 277 households suffering from a cold related illness were assisted with heating repairs, improvements and emergency heating through the Warm Homes Service, 226 additional home visits to vulnerable and low income households were made by the Green Doctor, providing energy and fuel bill advice and small scale energy efficiency improvements, 190 low income households were helped with fuel bill and income advice by Chapeltown Citizens Advice Bureau, achieving an estimated £238,582 of additional annual income between them, whilst around 7,000 residents were helped by 31 winter warmth community grants.
The good news is that Leeds City Council have committed to funding the scheme for the next three winters, so that vulnerable residents in Leeds can continue to keep warm during the cold weather.
Robert Curtis works as a Programme Officer in the Sustainable Energy and Climate Change team at Leeds City Council.