CHARITY organisers have hailed the success of an appeal to help the elderly and the disadvantaged cope with winter cold after it raised more than £60,000.
The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Surviving Winter appeal was launched in November to help tackle fuel poverty in Wiltshire and Swindon. More than 30,000 people in the county live in fuel poverty, many of them elderly or infirm. Fuel poverty is defined as spending more than 10 per cent of income on fuel.
Fiona Oliver, the community foundation’s director of development and marketing, said: “Health studies show that older people or those with disabilities are more vulnerable in cold weather because they are unable to move around to keep warm. Cold weather can make illnesses associated with respiratory and circulatory conditions far worse.
“Around 300 people die in Wiltshire each year simply because they cannot afford to heat their home properly. We have heard from people who can only heat one room in their home for part of the day, even when temperatures are hovering around freezing outside.”
The appeal has raised £63,000 and £70,000 has been given out to 307 individuals and families across the county.
“The response has been fantastic, people have been very generous,” said Mrs Oliver.
Applicants have been referred to the community foundation by organisations including Age UK, Aster Housing, credit unions and the Citizens Advice Bureau and via the community foundation’s website.
Much of the money has been raised by hundreds of individuals pledging their £200 government Winter Fuel Payment
“The payment isn’t means tested so many people who receive it don’t actually need it to pay their fuel bills,” said Mrs Oliver, “so we have been asking those who feel they can afford it to pledge their payment to us so we can help those less fortunate.”
Donations to the fund came from dozens of individuals as well as organisations and charitable trusts.
Last year individual payments were £200 but rising fuel prices have forced the community foundation to raise the payments to £300 for this year.
Mrs Oliver said: “We are so grateful to everyone who has contributed. We know these payments make a real difference to those who receive them, it really can save a life.”
Aster Group case worker Liz Axford sees the problem at first hand and knows only too well the financial difficulties people face when temperatures fall. She said case workers come across people forced to forego meals, or are reduced to eating poorly, so they can keep their heating on.
Mrs Axford, who is based in Devizes, visits families applying for disability benefits and can quickly recognise fuel poverty.
“We walk into a house and see someone huddled under a blanket, there’s a chill in the air. If we are going to help these people we can’t address the issue directly, we have to come at it in a round-about way,” she said.
“But it eventually comes out in conversation that they can’t afford to heat more than a couple of rooms.
“We go through their bills with them and try to work out what their average spend is. When I tell them they qualify for the Surviving Winter fund they say ‘but we’ve already had it’. They get it confused with the Government’s Winter Fuel Payment. When I explain they can get extra help, they look at you with disbelief. This fund really does make a difference and I’d like more people to know about it.”
The appeal will be launched again this November. For more details see www.wiltshirecf.org.uk/survivingwinter2017 or call 01380 729284.
FORMER Woolworths workers Margaret and Pete Howells say the Surviving Winter grant they received from the Wiltshire Community Foundation stopped them from going into debt.
The couple, both 82, will celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary in March and after having to pay out for a new boiler at the start of the year, say they are so grateful the £300 payment will man they can heat their neat home in Swindon.
“The money is wonderful,” said Mr Howells. “It has made a hell of a difference to us. Without it we’d most likely be overdrawn at the bank by now. It is such a godsend.”
After a lifetime working at Woolworths warehouse, and various other jobs that entailed spending long hours on her feet, Margaret has had five hip replacements, the first at 60. Consequently she finds it hard to move around without discomfort.
Pete also suffers from a respiratory condition, COPD, that means he gets out of breath quickly.
“We can’t keep moving much to keep warm,” he said. “So the house can feel quite chilly unless we keep the heating up. It can be quite miserable otherwise.”
He spent his working life behind the wheel of lorries and eventually buses. He learnt to drive an HGV while on National Service with the Royals Corps of Signals in 1955.
“They asked me I wanted to serve and I said in the Far East,” he recalled. “So they sent me to Shoeburyness near Southend!”
The trade he learnt there eventually got him a job with Woolworths in Swindon, where Margaret elso ended up. Woolworths has played a big part in their life because it was while working at the store in Streatham, south London, that they first met.
Pete’s prowess behind the wheel won him the Wiltshire Lorry Driver of the Year title in 1981 after a series of tests at the HGV training school in Devizes.
His moved on to become a Thamesdown bus driver before his retirement in 1999.
They have two children and four grandchildren and love welcoming them to their home.
“This grant is a real help to people like us,” he said.