Surviving Winter: Age UK Norfolk warn region’s elderly at risk this Christmas
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A charity which hands out cash to some of the region’s most vulnerable residents to keep them warm over winter revealed it is currently receiving calls for help every day – the majority from north Norfolk.
However, as temperatures plummet, fears have been voiced that those who are not aware of the Surviving Winter fund could suffer without over the festive season.
It follows the revelation that North Norfolk, which has the highest percentage of older people in the county, has the second worst record in the East of England for so-called “winter deaths”.
The fund, which is managed by Age UK Norfolk in association with the Norfolk Foundation, relies on donations from the public to survive and has given out 1199 grants, averaging around £160 each, since it was set up five years ago.
This winter alone it has already helped 50 people - including 15 in north Norfolk.
And now local housing association, Victory, has gifted the charity £15,000 - the biggest single donation it has received to date.
Jasmine Toombs, Age UK Norfolk grants co-ordinator, said: “The donation from Victory Housing is incredibly welcome. It will help many older people who are struggling to cope with the cold weather and are at risk, despite their own best efforts.”
The EDP-backed Surviving Winter appeal encourages people who won’t need their winter fuel payment to donate it to help others.
Last year it raised more than £55,000, which was given out in grants to individuals and community groups like meals on wheels, lunch clubs and community transport projects.
Grants have helped to buy gas bottles, coal and wood, heating oil, portable heaters, cookers and microwaves, as well as low-cost heating repairs or replacement radiators and night storage heaters.
Maddie Copley, marketing and communications officer for Age UK Norfolk, said: “People often call up wanting help with heating bills, a lot of people with oil tanks don’t have enough money to actually fill the whole tank for example. Sometimes people will phone up for help with a broken radiator or warm clothes. So there is a variety of different requests.
“We want to provide a more holistic service for people who call us. We might find that someone who phones is eligible for benefits so we can advise them there or they might be very lonely so we can pass them on to our befriending service. There are lots of different ways we can help other than just the grants. But they are certainly very needed, particularly in the rural areas.
“We’ve had 50 requests so far this year but they are coming through daily now, particulary as it is getting colder. And, of those, 15 have been the north Norfolk area. So there is a great need in north Norfolk.”
But she added: “Some people don’t know these grants are available, they are surviving in absolute freezing conditions, they don’t know the support is out there for them.”
Victory chief executive John Archibald admitted fuel poverty was a “major problem” in Norfolk.
But, having installed more than 3500 new central heating systems and provided improved loft and cavity wall insulation to its tenants, he pointed out the housing association is committed to making its homes as warm as it can.
Mr Archibald, who branded the winter death statistics “shameful”, said: “Victory has a very aged demographic, 35 per cent of our residents are over 75-years-old, and the majority of are retirement age. We know that fuel poverty is a major problem in Norfolk and for us the fund seemed a really good mechanism to get money to those who really need it.
“For me, it’s shocking that we’re the third in the country for excess winter deaths - that’s just terrible. So if this can go some way to alleviate that that’s a good thing.
“We go to every effort to make our homes as warm as we can because we know the situation people face. It’s not just about affordable rent it’s about living in a house affordably.” And he added: “If we have a bad winter this money is going to be essential for many people.”
To apply for support from the Surviving Winter Appeal, call Age UK Norfolk’s Information & Advice Line on 0300 500 1217 or visit www.ageuknorfolk.org.uk