Age UK IW has a stock of Winter in Box items to help elderly people in need this winter. Jo Dare, left, and Mark O’Sullivan sort out some of the items available.
WIGHT LIVING DESPITE increasing awareness of the problems caused by the cold, there was still a shocking statistic last winter. More than 31,000 older people died, cold and miserable, and the Island was not immune from the icy death grip.
A tragic illustration of that came at a recent inquest into the death of widower Raymond Porter.
Mr Porter was 87 and his sad plight was only discovered when his newspapers started to pile up.
When the police broke in, they discovered he was so cold in his Nettlestone bungalow he had developed frostbite and gangrene in his toes.
He was one of many thousands of Island people living in inglorious isolation.
Now fuel prices have gone up, yet again, by around nine per cent, it has been estimated that 19,000 Islanders — nearly one in eight of the population — are living in fuel poverty, some facing the stark choice between eating or heating.
Fuel poverty is defined by a household spending more than ten per cent of its income on energy.
National statistics show the average dual-fuel bill now stands at around £1,300 a year, but on the Island it is higher than that for many because there are some 6,000 households which depend on electricity, oil or LPG because gas is not available where they live.
But, all is not doom and heatless gloom out there. There’s probably more help available than ever there has been, but the trick is getting people who are often socially isolated, to take it on board.
One scheme is the hugely successful Age UK (IW) Good Neighbours Scheme, which matches friendly faces with people who may otherwise have fallen through the social services net.
There is also the IW Footprint Trust’s WarmerWight-plus project.
The organisation, which is committed to reducing the Island’s carbon footprint, recently won a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and last year helped dozens of Islanders to improve their insulation and energy-efficient heating systems.
The latest phase of its campaign was launched at the Riverside Centre last Friday. It aims for its staff and volunteers to reach out to people outside supermarkets and in social clubs and pubs.
It has especially targeted parents with young children, those seeking to live independently having left care, people who are struggling financially due to bereavement or loss, people who have issues with numeracy and literacy, those who are on low income and older people too.
Ray Harrington-Vail, who established the Footprint Trust 11 years ago, is adamant that providing assistance to people is a vitally important part of the equation that adds up to helping the planet.
"Some environmental organisations view people as the equivalent of vermin on the planet," he said.
"We look at it that if we can help people insulate their homes and get a more efficient boiler, thus reducing energy use and their costs by 50 per cent, we have also reduced carbon emissions and done the planet some good too.
"We are also in the business of helping people not get caught up by the fear of using energy.
"There are real savings to be made. I have today helped one visitor save £135 on their bills through the Warm Homes Discount, but the message is that by insulating, having more efficient boilers, spreading payments and making economies, then people can afford to keep warm.
"More than 300 people came to the event on Friday.
"We have also received some 40 calls from people who could not come but needed information and home visits.
"The Footprint Trust’s Warmer Wight-plus project aims to visit more than 500 homes this winter period.
"Experience has shown us that our visits save people around £200 on their energy.
"It is so vitally important that people stay warm because all manner of illnesses and conditions are made worse if people are cold."
Older people, whose immune systems are weakened, are more vulnerable to that, which is one of the reasons for continued focus on helping them. At the forefront is Age UK (IW’s) Extreme Weather Support Scheme (EWSS) with its successful Winter in a Box scheme.
Now in its third year, it has already provided support to more than 250 Islanders when the temperature drops.
The name stems from the well-stocked box of provisions that can be allocated to susceptible older people to help them fight the cold.
It is designed not only to provide physical warmth but emotional comfort to help people at a time when dipping temperatures make them vulnerable. Two case studies illustrate its success:
Mrs B is 94 years old and lives independently in a seaward facing flat with inadequate heating.
EWSS volunteers provided Mrs B with heaters, thermals and guidance and helped her to become comfortable again in her own home.
A small intervention had massive physical and emotional benefits and she is now supported all year through the Good Neighbour Scheme.
Mrs R, 77, contacted the EWSS and on a volunteer’s initial visit it was quickly apparent she was in a fragile condition; suffering from severe osteoarthritis and living alone.
Her home was seriously cold, at just 14C, exacerbating her condition and wearing down her mental resilience. The EWSS resources box was immediately put into use, by providing an energy efficient instant fan heater, thermal heat socks and thermostat.
In partnership with IW Council housing services, an improvement grant was awarded and installation of a new boiler to replace her condemned one was completed within days.
With extra support from Age UK IW, she received financial advice that to get benefits to which she was entitled, and an assessment with occupational therapy was made to asses her mobility needs, as well as a visit from the Footprint Trust which made a full energy efficiency audit.
Mrs R said: "I was a nurse for 50 years and had never asked for help from anyone. I can’t believe that this has all really happened. I’m so grateful."
• The WarmerWight-plus project is funded through the My Life a Full Life programme, supported by the IW Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Spectrum Housing, Southern Housing, Comic Relief and The Beatrice Laing Trust.
• Contacts: Ray Harrington-Vail, the Footprint Trust charity 01983 822282.
firstname.lastname@example.org or information is at www.footprint-trust.co.uk
• The Good Neighbour Scheme office is on 01983 525282 or e-mail email@example.com
• Oilsave (www.oilsave.org.uk) offers impartial information and advice consumers need to get the best from their oil heating systems.