Warming Bristol Communities
Helping disadvantaged members of Bristol’s minority ethnic communities at risk of fuel debt
Project duration: September 2009 to October 2013
Warming Bristol Communities was a three-year project which aimed to improve the lives of people from the black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) communities in Bristol (around 10% of the city's population) who are living in cold, damp homes, struggling to pay fuel bills or at risk of falling into arrears.
Around 16,000 Bristolians are of Somali origin. Of these, most are relative newcomers to the UK and many experience particular difficulty when it comes to ensuring their homes are adequately heated and insulated, and in dealing with energy companies.
"Many of Bristol's BAME residents, especially those from Somali backgrounds, are refugees and large numbers experience language problems, isolation, poor physical and mental health, and a low socio-economic profile," said CSE's Verity Saunders who managed the project. "On top of this, they may live in substandard housing and are disadvantaged by not fully understanding the help that is available to them."
CSE worked with a range of organisations in Bristol (see box, top right) to identify households living in fuel poverty and/or at risk of, or already suffering from, fuel debt.
We were ably supported by over a dozen active volunteers from BAME community groups who worked alongside CSE energy advisors to deliver energy advice in the householder’s first language. They included Yusuf Salah, orignally from Somalia, who provided translation and interpretation services during home visits or advice surgeries and was an invaluable point of contact with some of Bristol's most marginalised households.
Another was Tariq Khan of Dhek Bhal, an organisation that represents Bristol's South Asian communities, who said:
"Through this voluntary work I can help people improve their living conditions made worse by the cold, damp and high fuel bills. When I make visits with the CSE staff, I can see and feel the happiness of the people we visit, beacuse they greatly benefit from the advice, help and information provided to them."
Together with our partners, CSE's energy advisors are helping vulnerable householders to find ways of minimising their fuel bills and improving their homes. They will ensure that grant-aided energy efficiency measures (such as insulation for lofts and cavity walls, and boiler repairs) are installed where possible.
"Of particular value," added Verity, "is the help our advisors are able to offer with issues like billing and heating controls, which can be completely alien concepts to many householders new to this country."
In cases where households have fallen into fuel debt, the advisor will work with the residents and their energy supplier to find appropriate payment methods and tariffs. We'll also support clients to apply for and receive their benefit entitlements, and refer to other agencies for further help where appropriate.
Through training up volunteers, our aim is to pass our energy expertise on so that they too can become skilled at delivering domestic energy advice, long after the project ends.
Warming Bristol Communities was funded by the Big Lottery and Comic Relief.
Warming Bristol Communities grew out of an earlier project called Warming Bristol, which ran from 2007 to 2009 and which similarly aimed to help Bristol residents who were struggling in cold, damp homes and with high fuel bills.
It was funded by the Scottish Power Energy People's Trust and supported by Bristol City Council, and run in partnership between CSE, Bristol Debt Advice Centre, Bristol Citizens Advice Bureau, Bristol Care & Repair and the Pension Service.