Where will my office be today? One day it may be a pub car park, the next a village green – one thing is certain it's not the same two days in a row. And that's the beauty of our 'Wheels to Warmth' project enabling us to help to tackle fuel poverty in the heart of some of the more isolated communities in rural Derbyshire.
Reaching out to rural locations.
Despite our network of seven advice offices, 60+ outreach locations and telephone Advice-line service, we were aware that the rural geography of our area means people are unaware of or unable to access vital advice which could keep them safe and well, help them tackle energy debt and keep their homes warm. So Wheels to Warmth was born – a unique project coupling our expert energy advice experience with our presence on Derbyshire County Council's Mobile Library Service.
This partnership allows us to regularly engage with 50+ rural hamlets and villages, promoting the importance of energy advice. These locations suffer the most in terms of barriers in accessing services. They are isolated, have poor transport links, a lack of local facilities, restricted broadband coverage, fuel poverty and increased energy costs.
A typical day, if you can call it that, will see me meet up with my trusty Mobile Library colleagues John and Martin who know everyone in ten hills and narrow village streets like the back of their hands. We can do anything up to seven different stops in a day – hamlets, villages and market towns. We've got groups of school children waiting for us in one place, a mum and her toddler in another and regular older people who stop and say hello.
The problems and issues faced are as varied as the locations…. and the weather! There are people who are off-gas and facing high energy bills using their electric storage heaters, people who have no access to the internet and so can't look at price comparison websites, and people who were unsure about whether they qualify for the Warm Home Discount. A stone cottage or farmhouse may look pretty but its very design can mean it can cost a fortune to heat.
Informing and educating the wider community.
As well as advice for individuals - either on-the-spot or arranging a home or phone advice appointment - we're also informing and educating the wider community about energy issues. We've carried out a leaflet campaign of more than 2,500 homes and have monthly 'energy focus' info-displays in the mobile library itself. Each book the library sends out is accompanied by one of our 'energy top tip bookmarks'. For us energy is not an add-on issue – we know that fuel bills form a significant part of a household budget – and the cost of not meeting those bills can force people into a spiral of debt and poor health. And that's why our NEA-funded initiative is so important – it's an important first step in getting people the help they need right where they need it. It also provides an important route into our other proactive advice services – often issues with energy aren't the only areas where people may need our help. A problem with energy may be an indicator of other money issues, or health or age-related needs. By being rooted in our wider advice services we can offer routes to our experienced outreach advice teams, partner organisations and proactive help.
I very much look forward to my days on the bus – I feel that we're really are making a difference. Oh and there's also the fish and chip stop on a Friday too!