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Wis3rMoney: Delivering Energy and Benefits Advice in the Community

Wis£rmoney is a partnership between Navigate Charity and Encompass Southwest. The partnership was formed in 2012 and currently delivers a number of projects across Devon and Somerset aiming to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and financial resilience of people living in rural settlements.

The partnership specialises in working with people who are living on low-incomes in communities across the counties of Devon and Somerset experiencing (or at risk of experiencing), poverty, financial hardship, and social and financial exclusion.​ Here, Alex, Welfare Benefits Adviser at Encompass Southwest, part of the Wis£rmoney Partnership, talks about the challenges and benefits of delivering energy and benefits advice in the community. 

Encompass South West BGET project

“I have worked in different social care roles for last 15 years, having experience with both children and vulnerable adults. I started work for the BGET project part-time in 2018 as the Welfare Benefits Adviser and I also work part-time as a Dementia Adviser for Alzheimer’s Society. My work helps to maximise income and support our clients to claim any benefits that they are entitled to.

I love helping and supporting people and get real job satisfaction from every successful outcome! Increasing someone’s income can help them in so many ways, from keeping warm to eating property and living more independently, connecting them with their wider community and improving their health and wellbeing.

I met Daisy on a cold, winter morning. She was waving at me, standing outside her old cottage when she spotted my car approaching.  She had warned me that finding her will be a difficult task, as the numbers of houses are spread around the village. She was right as I was wondered around the village for more than 15 minutes. Daisy was wearing layers of colourful clothes, and I thought it is because she was waiting for me outside. I was so silly today, when I choose what to wear. Some first March rays of the Sun mislead me to put only cotton dress and cover it with rainproof jacket, and I was going to pay for my mistake very soon.

When we came inside, Daisy begun to tell me her story. Her unfinished conservatory job, which she did mention to me over the phone, was in fact a set of only three glass walls and a fourth one which was only blocked with a homemade sheet of cardboard. Now I realised the temperature outside was a perfect match to what we could feel inside the cottage, and in my head, I realised the fashion mistake I made this morning.

She explained that she cannot use the downstairs area because of the cold, so she led me upstairs through a metal, spiral staircase. Walking up, she had to grab hold of hanging tassels which she made to use them as aid, as she suffers from arthritis. She gently reminded me that I was welcome to use them too.

I knew that I had to stay in my waterproof jacket for the whole visit, and I was wondering how long it might take today, as there were so many things Daisy wanted to tell me. We were just approaching the first year anniversary of COVID-19’s first lockdown and Daisy had not seen a human being since a year before.

Daisy told me a story about buying the cottage that she was dreaming about, borrowing money to be able to finish the conservatory, and finally about a builder who left the job unfinished. She was telling me her story sitting in her single bed upstairs under two layers of duvets and an extra blanket. I was sitting on a chair, next to an electric fan, that she kindly prepared for me, which was burning my tights as I was shivering from the cold. I could not drink anything hot due to COVID-19 regulations, and Daisy had her black coffee and was taking another sip of it, when telling me about situation with the builder that left her shaking to the bones.

My glasses were steaming all the time under my face mask the whole visit. My fingers were painful from the cold as I tried to finish the application. Warm air was raising from the fine porcelain cup Daisy was holding. Victorian dolls filled the space around the room and in a large doll house covered heavily in dust. In one of the rooms the dolls cosily surrounded a miniature fireplace.

I was leaving the house, shaking and shivering, and feeling physically sick from a long visit, sitting in the cold, but I have made a genuine promise to Daisy that I will be back.

When traveling back home I have put heat in my car on the highest level, thanked under my breath that the journey will take at least an hour, and will not only give me a chance to warm myself but also to organise my thoughts of how to help Daisy.

Thank heavens that I am working for the charity and they sent me to see Daisy today. I was trained to spot fuel poverty, but today I felt what it is like for a human to live in such cold conditions, and the whole catalogue of useful organisations was scrolling before my eyes. I will contact Environmental Health, Energy 361, Lendology… and will take comfort in the fact that I can visit her again at some point in a house that is warm and inviting.”

Find out more at Encompass South West website.