A PROJECT to alleviate fuel poverty has helped almost 200 households in one of England's smallest counties.
Households in fuel poverty are defined as those that spend more than 10% of their income on keeping warm.
With 16% of the population in fuel poverty and a high proportion living in rural communities, Rutland is a county vulnerable to rising and volatile energy prices.
In early 2012 partners from across the county joined forces to tackle these issues and instigated a programme of activities, Energy Action for Rutland (EA4R).
This included household energy audits, warm home packs, a handyman service, free basic energy efficiency measures and training for frontline staff.
Information leaflets offering energy audits offering bespoke advice and guidance were sent to more than 1000 households most likely to be in fuel poverty.
A high number of households (7%) requested audits following the mailshot, with further requests for advice as news of the service spread due to word of mouth.
In little over four months, energy audits have been undertaken for 180 households.
More than 30 frontline staff in the county have been trained to advise householders about energy efficiency and fuel poverty.
So far, some 300 "warm home" packs have been distributed via household audits and doctors' surgeries.
For a small county, the response was very encouraging, said Nick Goodman, charity leader at Change Agents UK.
"It would appear that a trusted and quality energy service such as EA4R can lead to high levels of engagement, with members of the community doing the marketing for us.
"This means that people value it, it is making a difference and we start to see social norms developing – to minimise the amount of energy people consume in their homes."
The project originally planned to target insulation and infrastructural improvements.
But it became clear that fuel poverty was as much about energy misuse and lack of knowledge in the home than it was about the amount of insulation in the loft or cavities.
Basic mistakes such as ineffective use of heating controls and/or being on the wrong energy tariff have been common, these have been identified and tackled during the household audit.
Being a local project, Change Agents UK were able to respond swiftly to audit requests.
In the vast majority of cases, the 60-90 minute household audit was conducted within a week of the householder making initial contact.
Satisfaction levels were high (+90%) and each householder received a clear, simple to understand and meaningful report a week after the audit.
The project has since been awarded a Community Footprint award from National Energy Action.
Mr Goodman said he believed other communities could learn from the project.
"My message to others would be to mobilise partners quickly; local authority, social housing, voluntary and community sector organisations, get them all involved," he said.
"Ensure that your service is tailored, simple and accessible to all, don't rely on twitter or snazzy web pages, get out there and get into their homes.
Mr Goodman said projects aspiring to similar success should ensure staff were trained and confident to give meaningful and bespoke advice.
"Don't mention climate change, people care about being comfortable in their home and saving money – we have moved on from messages about polar bears and hot air balloons full of CO2."
For project details, contact Nick Goodman on 01572 725839 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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