MORE THAN 20 charities and organisations across North Yorkshire have joined forces in an unprecedented local effort to tackle rising rates of fuel poverty and bring warmth to cold homes.
Fuel poverty affects over 26,000 households in the region and is a contributing factor to an average of 431 excess winter deaths every year.
There are an additional 3,000 emergency admissions to hospital each year as a result of cold conditions, and some 11,000 children are believed to live in poverty-stricken households, making them vulnerable to ill health.
Now, a new initiative called ‘Warm and Well in North Yorkshire’ is being led by York-based charity Rural Action Yorkshire to address the root causes of cold homes.
Using £394,000 awarded to the project by the British Gas Energy Trust’s Healthy Homes Fund, the charity is co-ordinating a united effort with local councils and voluntary service councils, community care associations, home improvement agencies, energy companies and Age UK to focus on improving winter health, energy efficiency, warming cold homes and providing emergency support.
Leah Swain, chief officer at Rural Action Yorkshire, said: “In working together with other organisations across the private, public and charity sector, we can address such difficult issues as fuel poverty, emergency hospital visits, poor health and well-being, and at its most severe – excess winter deaths.
“Living in a cold home is not only detrimental to physical health, but it also affects emotional wellbeing, and can lead to loneliness or low confidence, or to mental health issues like depression.
“Through a range of services within the Warm and Well project, we will be able to face all of these challenges head-on and ensure that everyone has a warm home and is well-cared for during the long, cold and dark months.”
The project will support those most at risk this winter as temperatures tumble, including those on benefits or low incomes, older people or people with long-term health conditions, and families with young children.
It will also support people who live in rural areas where houses are often off the mains gas grid, rely on expensive forms of fuel to heat their homes, are poorly-insulated and even cut off when bad weather strikes.
Support and aid will be wide-ranging and tailored depending on individual needs, such as installing basic energy-saving methods, making minor repairs, conducting home visits to identify mould and draughts, applying for grant funds and for Warm Homes Discounts and registering vulnerable individuals with the Priority Services Register.
There will also be more high-level support available through a Hardship Fund, which is being managed by Two Ridings Community Foundation as part of its Surviving Winter appeal.
All seven North Yorkshire districts will also have access to crisis funds, which will be made available for homes and residents in urgent need of intervention.
The project has the full backing of the public health department at North Yorkshire County Council, and will operate this winter and again in winter 2016.
Rachel Richards, consultant in public health for the County Council, said: “The work... will help us all work together to tackle the worst effects of winter for the county’s residents.”