The annual campaign aims to help those in fuel poverty between October to March.
Wiltshire Community Foundation say they are set to launch this year's Surviving Winter campaign after helping a record number of people and raising more money than ever before last year.
2019's appeal helped an estimated 1,221 people from 731 households across Swindon and Wiltshire - four times their usual total - and raised £142,000.
Donations came from members of the public giving their £200 Government Winter Fuel Payment, and from companies and charitable trusts. The campaign also received £48,500 from Wiltshire Council as part of an allocation from central Government funding, to help people struggling over the winter months in response to a campaign by England footballer Marcus Rashford.
Surviving Winter has been running for 11 years and in that time it is estimated to have distributed almost £600,000 to help more than 1,800 households living in fuel poverty.
Previous campaigns have awarded grants directly to applicants, but this year the community foundation partnered with Age UK, Warm and Safe Wiltshire and Citizens Advice in Swindon and Wiltshire and funded them to support people in fuel poverty.
Grants Officer, Nicola Hillier, said: “With more people facing increased hardship and isolation as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we decided to re-shape the programme to provide some grants to individuals but also fund support and services to those in fuel poverty and most vulnerable during the winter period.
“By working with these organisations we knew that we would not only be able to address people’s immediate needs but also provide advice and guidance to help them cope with their energy bills in the future.”
Warm and Safe Wiltshire were awarded just over £70,000, and made grants of up to £263 to help 455 people in 251 households afford their winter fuel bills. The charity, which is run by the Centre for Sustainable Energy said it has a team of expert advisors who contact people at risk referred by charities, care and health workers.
As well as providing grants it gave applicants energy saving advice, helped them switch to cheaper tariffs, acted on behalf of those in arrears with energy companies and notified them of other benefits or help they were entitled to.
Advisor, Shareen Elnagy, said: “We came across a lot of people who were having to make the choice to heat or eat. During covid times many had lost their jobs or their children were having to stay at home because the schools were closed. They just did not have the money to keep afloat so just having a slight peace of mind that they would be able to get through the winter without having to worry about their fuel bill was important.”
Swindon Citizens Advice used a grant of £7,490 to extend an advisor’s hours so they could give advice on budgeting, help with benefits claims and assist with finding cheaper energy tariffs and other fuel bill support to 112 people from 46 households.
Age UK was awarded £53,200 and used it to give £250 grants towards winter fuel bills or a free trial of its hot meal delivery service, run from Toothill in Swindon, to 408 older people from 355 households.
Staff provided further support and advice including help with benefit applications, referrals to other services and help with energy tariff changes or energy grants such as Warm Home Discount.
Age UK Project Co-ordinator, Pippa Webster, said: ”The difference these grants can make is huge. The worry and anxiety of having a large fuel bill that can’t be paid or that some people would struggle to pay can’t be under-estimated.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive, Fiona Oliver, added: “We are very thankful for all the donations we have received and the fantastic support we have had from Warm and Safe Wiltshire, Age UK and Citizens Advice.
“By funding them to extend the work they do, we have been able to help so many more people and the most powerful thing is that we have not only met people’s immediate needs but by working with them on their energy efficiency, assisting them with debt advice and getting them on to cheaper tariffs they are in a far better position to cope than they were before.
“With many fuel bills set to rise by an average £139 this year, the campaign is needed more than ever.
“We know there is far more need out there that needs to be addressed. Lockdown may have prevented many older people from applying for help and poverty brought about by the pandemic will take its toll in the coming months so our Surviving Winter appeal will be just as vital this year.”
More information about the community foundation’s work can be found at wiltshirecf.org.uk.