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Healthcare event helps South West charity reach more communities

A leading South West charity is using funding from British Gas Energy Trust to extend its reach and support more people in the region.

Teams from Exeter Community Energy aim to take part in at least ten community outreach events a month – and even more in the winter when demand for their services soars.

And recently, it attended an innovative healthcare-focused event which it believes should be replicated across the city.

St Thomas Medical Practice brought ten community-focused providers together in a nearby church to enable its patients to meet helpful organisations that could support them and their families. And after speaking to dozens of people who could be supported with their energy issues, almost a hundred staff linked to the doctor’s surgery attended an information session in the afternoon.

Tara Bowers, a director at Exeter Community Energy, said:

“It was a great opportunity for the staff to learn more about the support available to their patients and almost now act like ambassadors for us, spreading the word further that help is available to people who need it. I thought it was really innovative and something that other doctor’s surgeries should be looking into. The mix of proactive and reactive approaches was really interesting. It also gave us further opportunities to widen our potential programmes of support.
In Devon, we’re running pilot programmes with the local Primary Care Networks, overlapping data showing those in fuel poverty with those with a high vulnerability like respiratory issues to give us a targeted list of a hundred people who are likely to need our support.
During the event, we were introduced to another person who could look at similar data specifically in Exeter so we’re looking into that now too.”

Tara says the funding the charity gets from British Gas Energy Trust allows them to reach more people than they otherwise would be able to.

She added:

“It’s enabled us to fund some new extra staff in Exeter. After Covid, we’ve been able to rekindle some of our connections locally and reach out to organisations to link up with and come up with innovative ways to provide support to people in need. For example, recently, we’ve been able to link up with a local social housing provider. It also funds all of our in-depth case work. We can have quite complex cases so they need a lot of time and resource to ensure people are getting the right benefits and we can provide a better, more holistic service. It really means we can maximise the support and get the solutions in place that people need.”

Tara – who is also the charity’s Healthy Homes Project Manager – says their workload often increases when colder weather grips the local community.

Tara said:

“There’s a lot of research about cold and damp and the effects it has on people’s health. If you can’t turn the heating on, you’ll be cold, and it can exacerbate existing respiratory issues. It can also cause cardo-vascular problems as well as really affect someone’s mental health. It can also cause problems with mobility. Lots of people say that they’re spending an increasing amount of time in bed. One woman was telling us recently that she goes to bed at 6pm because that’s the warmest room in the house.
Then there’s less obvious issues – like using blankets or plug-in heaters, which can become trip hazards. There’s also the malnutrition issue – if you don’t have enough energy to cook, you’ll likely be eating cold meals and not getting the nutrition you need to be healthy.
It’s all linked and is a vicious cycle. We can’t necessarily change the benefits system, but if we can improve people’s health by improving their homes, it’s a start.”

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British Gas Energy Trust currently has two support funds available. The Individuals and Families Fund, and the Energy Support Fund. To check your eligibility and apply, please click here.