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Knowledge exchange success for two funded charities 

Two British Gas Energy Trust funded charities located 500 miles apart have taken part in an innovative knowledge exchange to enhance energy advice in rural communities.  

One of the main aims of the Trust is to enhance the capacity of the organisations we fund, building the skills, knowledge, and experience of their teams to help them support as many people as possible to reduce the burden of energy debt in communities across Britain.  

With almost 20 years of experience and an expansive network of funded organisations we have a wealth of knowledge to support the charities we fund.  

Following our brokerage, Ashley Comley, the chief executive of Citizens Advice Rhondda Cynon Taff, a charity in the Welsh valleys, flew to the most northerly part of Britain to meet the team and Trustees of THAW Orkney 

The two charities help people in their respective rural communities manage energy and household budgets and incomes.  

With Ashley’s tutelage, the main purpose of the trip was to review operations at THAW Orkney with the goal of providing guidance and recommendations on how to improve management and aid the direction of the charity.  

Over the course of three days, Ashley helped assess the services delivered at the Scottish island charity. 

As well as providing the THAW Orkney team with a series of recommendations, Ashley also came away with a few ideas to help his own service delivery back in Wales, saying the visit had broadened his understanding of the impacts of fuel poverty and the challenges of rural life.  

He said: “It has increased my own awareness of how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting my local community differently to other parts of the UK. Our future service planning and funding applications will be stronger now we have a broader awareness of different approaches and models to delivering high impact, high value advice and other interventions.” 

Trustee Caroline Butterfield said: “We needed peer-to-peer advice. There were huge benefits in Ashley coming, he is so knowledgeable and experienced – and specifically so in energy advice.” 

THAW Orkney Trustee, Rhoda Walker, said: “While we are seeing more people come to us for support due to the cost-of-living crisis, we are also seeing the same people come around time and time again. We can give people all the energy advice in the world, but sometimes it is not enough.  

“We have a difficult situation with our housing stock on the islands. Homes are generally old, can be quite damp. People are struggling, so might only heat one room and then the others get damp. Sometimes the work we do can only feel like a sticking plaster.” 

With 22,000 people living across the ‘mainland’ of Orkney and another 17 inhabited islands – the smallest of which has one person living on it for the majority of the year – the issues surrounding providing energy advice are clear.  

Caroline continued: “One of the biggest problems is that Orkney has no mains gas, and the cost of electricity is higher than elsewhere in the UK, which is ironic given Orkney produces more than its own electricity needs and is a UK centre of excellence for renewable energy. 

“Orkney also has a very different climate to the majority of the UK – windier and wetter than elsewhere. In April, for example, it was still bitterly cold up here. And I was still having to put the heating on at the beginning of June. It can be very difficult for people up here to heat their homes to an adequate level.” 

Rhoda added: “Thanks to this visit, we now have a much better understanding of the issues our staff are experiencing.  

“It’s sometimes hard for our staff to say ‘no’ to people when they have already exhausted all avenues of help but not solved the underlying issues – we work in such small communities that everyone knows each other and our staff will often see their clients in the supermarket, so they obviously want to help as much as they can. Among other things, it has helped us as trustees to better identify the need to support our staff as they meet these challenges.  

“It is definitely helped to improve staff morale. They have come away buoyed by the experience.” 

To find British Gas Energy Trust funded money and energy advice near you go to Fuel and money advice – Local centres – British Gas Energy Trust