Older people living in fuel poverty have told of their relief at being able to have their heating on in cold weather.
They say they have been enabled to do so after receiving Surviving Winter grants.
The grants of up to £200 come from Wiltshire Community Foundation’s annual fund-raising appeal, set up in response to the average 300 cold-related deaths each year in the county among people who are unable to heat their homes properly.
The community foundation works with partners Age UK, Warm and Safe Wiltshire and both Swindon and Wiltshire Citizens Advice, who distribute the grants as well as provide energy-saving or benefits advice to people in fuel poverty.
Retired Wiltshire Council social worker Marilyn Hunter, 78, who had to leave her job in 2007 after injuring her spine, has been receiving the grant for six years.
She said: “I do not like the cold, it makes my spinal injury more painful. Not being able to have a warm home would make me depressed to say the least, it really would. The Surviving Winter grant is a godsend, it’s really lovely to have the house warm when you wake up.”
She has also been helped with energy-saving advice and other support by Age UK. Its advisors say the worry of having to pay heating bills takes its toll on older people living alone.
Ms Hunter, who still volunteers with disability sailing charity Sailability, added: “I always used to have the heating off while I was out because I worried about the bill and I used to come home to a cold house, which got me down.
“Now I can leave it on low so that I come back home into the warm and I can put the boiler on early if I want to have a shower. Having that bit of extra help from the grant stops me worrying.”
She said she was embarrassed to have to ask for help when she first contacted Age UK. “I have worked all my life and I have never asked for anything,” she said. “I was a bit embarrassed but then I decided not to be. When they told me I could get the money I was in shock, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Last year the appeal raised £142,000 and helped more than 1,200 people pay fuel bills and save energy, as well as apply for other benefits.
Retired market trader Pete Wells, 75, suffers from a rare eye condition that means he is losing his sight. He and his wife, Sue, say keeping their rented home warm is always a struggle and having to deal with his fading sight is an extra problem.
“We are indoors a lot of the time and I have to have the lights on because of my eye problems,” said Mr Wells. “In the winter the heating and the lights are on all day long so getting the grant is a real relief. It helps to balance things out and stops us worrying. If I fret about the bills too much it makes me anxious and I have to take a tablet to calm myself down.”
Mrs Wells said that even with the grant they have to live frugally. “We are very careful and we have the heating on a bit later and a bit lower to save some money because getting a big bill is a concern to us,” she added.
The community foundation is asking anyone who receives a government Winter Fuel Payment and feels they don’t need all or some of it to donate it to the appeal. Ms Hunter hopes more people will support the appeal this year because of the extra financial pressure created by heating and food bills rising due to the energy crisis.
“I will be forever grateful to the people who donate to the appeal, it is very, very kind of them,” she said. “Maybe they don’t realise how miserable it can be if people have to cut down on heating, especially when they are older. It would be nice for them to hear what the grant does for people and what a difference it makes.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “If anyone who receives their Winter Fuel Payment really does feel they can spare some or all of it, we can recycle that money and help someone who will be dreading the cold weather and deciding to either huddle in one warm room or go without a hot meal. It really is as stark as that.
“Each year we hear stories like that of Marilyn and Pete and it is heart-breaking that people who have worked hard all their life are reduced to living in fear of a heating bill and denying themselves basic necessities because of it.”
To donate to the appeal online go to wiltshirecf.org.uk or call 01380 772948.