Surviving Winter: So much more than just financial support

January 14, 2020


By Justin Sargent, Chief Executive

“I don’t really need my Winter Fuel Payment, so if I donated the equivalent amount to you, could you use it to help someone in much greater need?”

From that simple and generous offer ten years ago, sprang an award-winning fundraising campaign, devised and led by Somerset Community Foundation: the Surviving Winter appeal. We have now raised £700,000 in Somerset, and millions of pounds across the UK. Endorsements have ranged from Somerset residents Michael Eavis and The Bishop of Bath and Wells through to national personalities such as Sir Terry Wogan, Joanna Lumley and Michael Parkinson.

Each year, hundreds of better-off recipients of the government’s Winter Fuel Payment living in Somerset, donate to our Surviving Winter appeal to help pensioners who face untold hardship during the winter months.

If you are fortunate enough to have a good income but have experienced your boiler go on the blink during the winter, you will know how miserable that can be. For some people, that is their reality throughout the whole winter.

We have estimated that in Somerset alone there are a staggering 6,500 households occupied by older people who are considered to be fuel poor – meaning they have to make the decision between paying for heating or buying food. On average, an additional £300 would be enough to heat their homes adequately for comfort and health.

Too many people have to choose between heating and eating. Too many people only heat one room to save costs, retreating to bed as soon as it falls dark. I remember meeting a lady who moved her bed into her kitchen during the winter to save costs and stay a little warmer at night.

The consequence of cold weather is a significant rise in the number of deaths every winter. In 2017/18 there were 542 ‘excess winter deaths’ in Somerset alone, most of whom were older people. For each one, hundreds of others will be experiencing hardship and suffering that is, quite frankly, avoidable.

The media are already reporting on the expected pressures that will be placed on the NHS this winter. In one of the richest countries in the world it is shameful that this additional burden is caused because people cannot afford to keep warm or that they become more isolated and lonely in the winter.

Here in the rural West Country many areas are dependent on expensive sources of energy such as oil or LPG, and many people live in old cottages that are expensive to insulate.

When we first launched the Surviving Winter appeal I was challenged on how we would reach those people in greatest need. As a Community Foundation, we fund hundreds of local charities each year. We’ve asked them to use their networks to reach those most in need. In so many cases it is not just the extra financial help to stay warm, it is about the human contact, the extra advice and support that goes with it that makes all the difference. Last year, a lady in her 90s with no close family was given a Surviving Winter grant; through the process she was then able to access additional financial support that she was entitled to from the state.

Surviving Winter is an incredibly simple and effective community-led response with a very neat symmetry. Over 500 people donate each year and, in turn, we are able to help just over 500 households stay warm and well. There is something really magical about the thought that your gift might help someone just down the road in your village or neighbourhood, especially in the colder months. So, if you can afford to, please donate today and spread some warmth this winter. Thank you.

If you would like to donate to Surviving Winter, click here. A donation form is available to download here.

For information on how to apply for a Surviving Winter grant, please contact Community Council for Somerset on 01823 331222.

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