Hitting the Cold Spots: Maria’s Story

About the client

Maria and her husband live with their two young children in a flat above a fast food restaurant. Maria’s husband runs his own business, but even with benefits, the family live month to month. Their Local Authority referred the family to Hitting the Cold Spots for help to improve the heating and energy efficiency of their home.

What did Maria need help with?

When Maria phoned us, she was worried about the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning from a 35 year old failing back boiler. She was also looking for help to relocate her gas meter, which was inaccessible. Her Hitting the Cold Spots advisor initially signposted her to Southern Gas Network’s (SGN’s) assisted connection scheme and to a Buy with Confidence engineer to quote for improvements to the central heating system. The advisor also suggested DIY fixes for the home’s draughty, rotting, single-glazed sash windows and spoke to Maria about condensation and mould.

“I was referred to Hitting the Cold Spots and upon the first phone call, I knew we would be in safe hands. My advisor is very thorough and really cared about our well-being. It was not just a job, they have gone the extra mile to research information to help make our living standards better.”

How we were able to help Maria

Between the time of the initial phone call and the day the advisor visited Maria, they had already been notified that SGN would not provide an assisted gas connection but that the heating engineer could quote for the necessary work, part of which would be covered by an Energy Company Obligation scheme grant. At the home visit, Maria showed her energy advisor the draughty windows and the damp around an old, unused chimney stack. Her advisor later emailed more detailed advice regarding these issues. They also made a referral for a Safe & Well visit from the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service. The family received two smoke alarms as a result. It also prompted the installation of fire resistant plasterboard in the food establishment below the flat.

Maria’s advisor helped secure additional funding from the Hitting the Cold Spots project for a replacement boiler and radiators. Once these were installed, they helped the family understand how to use the new Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs) as well as the programmable room thermostat. They discussed additional ways to increase the energy efficiency of the home, including reflective radiators panels, radiator fans and further improvements to the windows.

“I can’t thank our advisor from Hitting the Cold Spots enough. I am excited that this will be our first winter where we will feel warmer and safer! We have had smoke alarms fitted from a visit from a fireman and been provided lots of information to assist us with our poorly insulated sash windows and our damp chimney stack. You could say that our advisor has potentially saved our lives!”

Savings and outcomes

  • With all the grants, Maria was able to get approximately £4430 to upgrade her heating system
  • The grants saved the family from accruing more debt through a finance package
  • The family replaced some of their draughty, single-glazed windows with DIY double glazed units based on the advice their energy advisor gave them
  • The new smoke alarms and the fire resistant plasterboard have made the home safer
  • The food establishment below the flat has updated its waste management practices and reduced its water use, resulting in fewer pests and better water pressure

“The cost to carry out this sort of upgrade to our property was too much for us to be able to do ourselves. It would have meant a lot of debt, which would have left us in a far worse position. I am so thankful and grateful to Hitting the Cold Spots for providing this funding, it means that I will not have to worry about the extra demands of debt and we can actually save money on our bills to help towards our current financial obligations.

Get in touch

If you know someone who needs help with staying warm and well, please call the Hitting the Cold Spots team on Freephone 0800 804 8601 or email: staywarm@environmentcentre.com.

Plastic Free July

Our intern Christie volunteers for Surfers Against Sewage, and can see first hand the impact that plastic pollution is having on the marine environment. Here she shares some tips on how you can reduce your plastic use and help prevent this problem.

As plastic pollution has become such a dire problem, there are lots of campaigns to help people reduce plastic and waste and live more ethically. Some of the tEC staff are currently taking part in Plastic Free July, a challenge to either reduce disposable plastic use or remove it from your lifestyle completely for a month, which will hopefully form changes that will continue long after July is over. If you are interested in curbing your plastic use, here are some tips on how to get started:

  1. BYO (bring your own) Reusables: Put together a plastic free kit of essentials that you can carry around with you such as a canvas bag for shopping, metal, glass or bamboo straws, refillable water bottle and travel mug.
  2. Make your own meals: Cooking from scratch can sound daunting but once you’ve learned a few meals you’ll never go back- it’s cheaper, healthier and tastier- plus there’s no plastic packaging!
  3. Switch up your wardrobe: Plastic microfibers from synthetic clothing find their way from the washing machine to the ocean and the water we drink! Try converting to items made from natural cotton, hemp or linen.
  4. Use bars of soap: Solid, unpackaged bars are becoming more popular for everything from dish soap and hand wash to shampoo and conditioner, they are often longer lasting and have no plastic packaging.
  5. Switch to recyclable/compostable items: Bamboo toothbrushes, stainless steel razor, natural bath sponges, so many items were around long before their plastic replacements and switching back to them stops the risk of them becoming more plastic pollution.

As reducing waste and plastic is given more and more attention, it’s becoming easier to find alternatives. To get started, search for your nearest ethical, zero-waste shop to buy plastic-free alternatives and package-free products.

Southampton Healthy Homes: Malik’s Story

About the client
Malik was referred to the Environment Centre by Citizens Advice Southampton who were helping him with budgeting and debt advice, but he was still having issues understanding his energy bills.

What did Malik need help with?
After moving into his current rental, Malik found himself with a credit meter instead of a prepayment meter. This change meant that Malik no longer checked his meter since he no longer topped up, and his bills were being estimated. The meter was easily accessible for Malik, so his Southampton Health Homes advisors asked him to start providing monthly meter readings to his energy supplier to ensure bill accuracy.

How we were able to help Malik
At an office appointment, we called Malik’s energy supplier, provided a meter reading taken that day, and the supplier recalculated the latest bill. This reduced the bill by about £15, which he found more affordable.

Malik paid on receipt of bills and waited for this bill to arrive in the mail. Two more months went by without a bill, despite requests to his energy supplier to post these to him. When he came in for another office appointment, we discovered that his supplier’s process of issuing the bill had not been followed, resulting in the bill not being sent out. Malik did finally receive these bills and paid them.

Clear of energy debt, Malik expressed interest in a price comparison. We used an Ofgem-accredited switching site and figures from the most recent bill to find him a deal, which we went on to help him switch to.

Savings and outcomes
• By switching energy suppliers Malik was projected to save over £500 over the course the year.
• A few months after the switch took place, Malik says things have improved a lot in his household as a result of the help from Southampton Healthy Homes. Despite English not being his first language, he wrote, “I am happy and thanks.”

Get in touch
If you’re struggling to understand your energy bills or want to find a better deal, call us on Freephone 0800 804 8601 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) or email keepwarm@environmentcentre.com to speak to an advisor.

Southampton Clean Air Zone (CAZ) consultation

Southampton City Council and New Forest District Council are consulting on their proposals for a Clean Air Zone. It’s time to have your say.

The closing date for feedback is Thursday 13th September. Paper copies of the consultation are available and there will be public drop-in events where you can find out more information or ask questions.

A Surfer’s Perspective

Our intern Christie volunteers for Surfers Against Sewage, here she tells us what that involves and how you can take part too.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) is an organisation started by a group of Cornish surfers almost 30 years ago as a national campaign to improve water quality. Since then it has expanded to become a national marine conservation charity focusing on protecting waves, oceans, beaches, marine wildlife and coastal communities. Currently, the organisation’s main focus is marine plastic pollution, but they also work in many other areas from mitigating climate change to designating natural surf breaks as heritage sites.

I first joined SAS after hearing about an autumn beach clean they were running at a local beach in my hometown and decided to volunteer as a cleaner. At first glance there was barely any litter on the stretch of beach but within minutes of raking just a few centimetres under the sand, the volunteers turned up swathes of rubbish that was choking the beach and sea. Each beach clean often removes several kilograms of litter, most of it made up of disposable plastic items such as bottles, packets and cutlery, as well as lots of discarded nylon fishing gear.

As someone who has grown up surfing and living right beside the ocean, I continually see first-hand just how important the ocean and beaches are to people and the planet. Since I first came across SAS almost 8 years ago, I’ve taken part in beach cleans all over the South Coast and Cornwall and I now organise several myself as a beach clean leader. The organisation has expanded hugely since 2012 and now has a nationwide network of regional reps made up of volunteers from all over the UK. Regional reps are the first point of contact for all campaigns and work in leading beach cleans, giving educational talks to local schools and communities, connecting with local councils and MPs, highlighting regional issues and promoting SAS’s national campaigns and initiatives.

The latest waste-reduction initiative, plastic free communities, has had over 300 towns pledge to cut their plastic waste and, as autumn comes along, there will be beach cleans all over the UK in need of passionate volunteers – it’s fun and easy to take part!

Keeping Cool This Summer

It’s been unusually hot these past few weeks, which comes as a welcome surprise to some while others can’t wait for it to cool down. The UK is facing a number of challenges as a result of the heatwave, with water shortage warnings from water companies, hosepipe bans and even rail service delays due to overheating tracks.

Apart from problems with infrastructure, heatwaves can pose serious risks to people’s health. Sustained heatwaves are associated with an increase in hospitalisations and even deaths, especially if temperatures don’t fall substantially in the evenings. Milder reactions to heat exposure, like heat rashes and muscle cramps, can be treated with rest, a cool environment and more water. But if you’re concerned about serious heat-related symptoms, call NHS 111 or 999 in an emergency.

We can provide tailored advice over the phone about ways to keep cool and well at home, so please call us on Freephone 0800 804 8601.

Want more tips to beat the heat?

Stay hydrated

  • Drink plenty of cold fluids, preferably without caffeine or alcohol
  • Eat fruit and veg with a high water content e.g. melons, cucumber, tomato, salad, citrus etc.

Cool your body

  • Run a cool bath, take a cool shower or wipe down with a wet washcloth
  • Slow down – try not to overexert yourself in the heat

Outdoors

  • Avoid the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm)
  • If you must go out, dress for the heat – wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and light, loose-fitting clothing minimises skin exposure and protects you from UV rays.

Cool your home

  • Shade the windows or use a reflective material
  • Ventilate when it’s cooler outside (typically at night)
  • Turn off appliances that aren’t being used. Standby power adds heat to your home. And it’s doubly important to turn off old-style incandescent bulbs if you have sufficient lighting otherwise since these give off most of their energy in the form of heat as opposed to light!
  • Though many people think of insulation to keep their home warm during the winter, insulation can also keep your home cool in summer. Contact us for more details about the different ways to insulate your home or about the schemes that could help with the cost of the work.

Still not cool enough? Find a library, community centre, shopping centre, place of worship or even a shaded park to cool off.

If you’re wondering when the heatwave will end, check out the Met Office website for updates on weather changes, including any hot weather alerts. And be sure to keep an eye out for family and friends who are more susceptible to the heat, like young children, older people or those with health conditions.

Southampton Healthy Homes: Margaret’s Story

Margaret contacted us as her combi boiler hadn’t been producing hot water for four months. Her occupational therapist provided her with an information leaflet about our Southampton Healthy Homes project and suggested she get in touch. Margaret has health problems that leave her unable to work and she recently lost her husband, leaving her unable to afford the cost of replacing her broken boiler.

A Southampton Healthy Homes advisor visited Margaret two days later and helped her get quotes from Buy With Confidence and Gas Safe registered heating engineers, as well as fill in an application for a grant to other charitable trusts. During the application process, Margaret’s boiler completely broke. A referral was made to the local welfare charity, for a utility top up voucher to help Margaret cover the higher electricity costs from temporary heaters, whilst awaiting the trusts’ decision.

In less than a month’s time, the trust agreed to fully fund the boiler replacement, giving Margaret heating and instant hot water again. The trust also decided to provide financial help her pay off debt from her husband’s funeral.

Margaret was very happy with her new boiler:

“Now I have again heating and hot water at all times.”

She was also very thankful for all the help she received:

“Like to thank everyone involved who helped me so much plus [the trust] for the grant and [the heating company] who installed the new boiler.”

As well as helping with the heating, the advisor helped Margaret apply for the Warm Home Discount, a government scheme that offers a discount of £140 off electricity bills.

If you know a friend, family member or client in a similar situation, please call the Southampton Healthy Homes team for advice and support on Freephone 0800 804 8601 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) or email keepwarm@environmentcentre.com.

A Month of Clean Air

tEC staff have been getting involved in the exciting clean air events in Southampton this month. This year’s National Bike Week culminated in the Let’s Ride Southampton street festival, and these events prompted our newest staff member to begin riding to work. While she doesn’t own a bike, she was able to take advantage of the local bike share scheme and, along with thousands of others, participated in the 6km circular bike route around the city.

We also got involved in Clean Air Day, which aims to raise awareness of the benefits of clean air and ways people can improve the air quality around them. We made pledges in the lead-up to the event, ranging from using fewer nasty chemicals to clean our homes to switching to renewable energy providers. To celebrate Clean Air Day 2018, the Clean Air Network – a network of organisations from businesses and transport operators to charities and education institutions – hosted a festival with activities, performances, speakers and prizes. We were on hand to encourage passers-by to get involved, find out how to reduce and avoid air pollution and to provide feedback on Southampton City Council’s Clean Air Zone proposals. The consultation will remain open for the next 12 weeks.

The day ended with a number of great speakers as part of the University of Southampton’s Research Café highlighting their work with regards to air pollution, its impacts and potential solutions. The speakers gave us hope that we’re moving in the right direction and little steps can lead to big changes.

We finished the month by attending Clean Air Southampton’s Air Quality Monitoring Workshop to learn more about the current monitoring situation in the UK and how we can interpret and utilise this information locally. It was great to meet a wide range of campaigners, researchers and politicians from across the county who are all passionate about tackling air pollution.

tEC is committed to helping individuals, businesses and communities reduce their environmental impacts and cut carbon. If you would like to find out more about our projects, or want to become an Air Quality Champion, you can email cleanair@environmentcentre.com or call us on 02380 336172 (Mon-Fri 9-5).

Southampton Healthy Homes: Emma’s Story

Emma is an owner occupier living with her two teenage children and is her son’s full time carer. She was given our contact details from a local heating engineer as her boiler was condemned and it was not safe to use. The engineer had told her it was irreparable and that it had to be replaced, a cost that Emma couldn’t afford herself due to her limited income.

“I was completely shocked and worried when my boiler was condemned and I had no idea how I was going to be able to pay for a new one.”


A Southampton Healthy Homes advisor visited Emma at her home to discuss potential funding options and help her fill in the project’s application form.

Emma’s application was approved for a local authority grant and, with a contribution from herself, she was able to have a brand new boiler installed.

“Without help, I would have really struggled getting a replacement boiler.”

She was also very pleased with all the help she received:

“Through the heating engineer passing on tEC’s details, my mind was put at rest straight away and before I knew it funding had been granted and a new boiler was fitted. I am incredibly grateful; such lovely people to deal with.”

Apart from support with the faulty boiler, Emma expressed her concern about her draughty back door for which the advisor provided a door brush to limit the problem.

If your home is cold and draughty, please call the Southampton Healthy Homes team on Freephone 0800 804 8601 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) or email keepwarm@environmentcentre.com to speak to an advisor about how you can keep warm and well.

Hitting the Cold Spots: Pat’s Story

Pat is an older widow living in her own property in Hampshire. Her combi boiler had failed, leaving her without heating or hot water, and her insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. She needed help and called us.

Because of her financial situation and serious health conditions, we were able to help her with the cost of installing a new boiler in addition to helping her apply for the Warm Home Discount. Her vulnerabilities made her eligible for the Priority Services Registers for her energy and water companies and we provided her with those details.

Pat was very happy with the Hitting the Cold Spots service and things have improved a lot for her and her property following our involvement. The replacement boiler and the new room thermostat location mean that,

“the house is now warmer than before the old boiler broke. I would have frozen to death if I had not done anything about the failed boiler.”

We were also able to help Pat get a significant discount on her water bill, including a surface water drainage rebate.

If staying warm and well is vital for your health, please call the Hitting the Cold Spots team on Freephone 0800 804 8601 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) or email staywarm@environmentcentre.com for advice and support.