Wiltshire Council has enlisted the help of library staff and community groups to provide basic energy advice to local residents. The staff and groups can volunteer for online training on issues around energy efficiency, providing an accessible community-based resource across the county.
‘Warm and Safe Wiltshire’ is a long-running energy advice service for people on low incomes, provided by Wiltshire Council in partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) and Swindon Borough Council. Since 2015 the project has provided a single point of contact for energy advice and has worked with more than 7,000 households.
A range of support is available, including:
- energy-saving advice by phone or in person
- advice on insulation and draught-proofing
- advice on understanding fuel bills and help with fuel switching
- fuel debt advice.
In the four months between October 2022 and January 2023, the service received 1009 enquiries, made 144 heating and insulation referrals, provided £26,000 in food and fuel vouchers, and distributed £30,328 of ‘Surviving Winter’ grant to Wiltshire households (people who do not need their winter fuel payments are encouraged to donate them to this fund, which is managed by Wiltshire Community Foundation).
As cost of living pressures took hold, Wiltshire Council was looking at how energy advice could be provided to more people. At the same time, it was developing a network of warm spaces for the winter of 2022/23, which included the county’s 33 libraries along with other community spaces.
The potential of this untapped resource of library staff and community organisations was recognised, and CSE launched the ‘Rural communities energy support network’ in partnership with Wiltshire Council. Library staff, frontline workers and community groups can volunteer to take part in training which equips them to provide basic energy advice.
The online training is provided by CSE, supported by Wiltshire Council and Wessex Community Action. It includes a series of one-hour knowledge sessions covering the basics – such as spotting the signs of fuel poverty, basic draught-proofing, setting heating controls and understanding energy bills. Volunteers can take whichever modules interest them.
CSE also provides:
- resources such as fact sheets and step-by-step guides
- an online forum for knowledge-sharing among the volunteers
- support in running local initiatives, activities and workshops on fuel poverty.
The aim was for all Wiltshire’s warm spaces to have at least one energy advice volunteer. As well as providing basic advice, they can refer more complex cases to CSE’s professional energy advisers. The initiative has been funded for two years.
Speaking in early 2023, Councillor Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council, said:
“The drop-in energy advice service has proved to be really useful for residents, particularly those who are elderly and more vulnerable, so we’ll be continuing with this with our partners for the foreseeable future.
“We know that the challenges residents are facing won’t just disappear when temperatures get warmer, so we’ll ensure we continue to do what we can and be there for people as long as it’s needed.”
Each library has a table-top energy advice display with banners and information. Libraries were also collection points for the winter warmth packs, which contained a hot water bottle, blanket and thermal mug: more than 1,000 packs were given out.
‘Warm and Safe Wiltshire’ also employs a community caseworker, and part of their remit is to deliver training events for adult social services, primary care, and other NHS and VCS organisations on keeping people warm and safe. One-to-one support and advocacy is available to people in crisis.
Boater community support
The boater and travelling community who live on or near the Kennet and Avon canal has been disproportionately affected by cost of living pressures. Boaters are required to move on regularly, so they have no fixed address and can find it difficult to access services and support.
Wiltshire Council secured a grant from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to mobilise an outreach service, provided by the charity Julian House, to provide emergency food and fuel vouchers to eligible boater households. This was delivered in a three-week period in December 2022 and helped 71 boaters and four roadside travellers.
- Library staff, who are central to Wiltshire’s communities and are in contact with a wide range of people, have provided the perfect platform to get involved as volunteer energy advisers. Uptake has been good, with 31 advisers across 20 staffed libraries.
- Identifying the boater community members in most need was successful due to the established partnership between public health and Julian House, an organisation which was already working with this population.