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Charity North Wales

Community group to the rescue as fuel poverty starts to bite in the Dee Valley

South Denbighshire Community Partnership; Margaret Sutherland . Picture Mandy Jones

A DENBIGHSHIRE widow in her 80s has had the £693 electricity bill she received cut to just £29 after a local community charity stepped in to help.

With energy prices expected to surge again on April 1, retired pub landlady Jo, from the Corwen area, who suffers from heart and breathing problems, had been turning on the heating for just two hours a day after receiving the massive bill.

She tearfully admitted to wearing up to six layers of clothing to cut costs and to suffering from depression before her case was taken up by local community charity South Denbighshire Community Partnership.

Their Chief Executive Officer Margaret Sutherland said: “We jumped on this case immediately.”

SDCP, who have bases in Corwen and Llangollen, helped set up a hydro-power electricity generating scheme in Corwen two years ago and are now ready to offer up to 20 places on it to eligible people struggling in fuel poverty in the Dee Valley.

Margaret Sutherland said: “I was really worried about Jo both because of the effect this bill was having on her mental health and because of the danger to her physical health – she has been boiling water for hot drinks on a camping stove in her kitchen instead of using an electric kettle.”

The old age pensioner who once ran a pub in the Vale of Clwyd says she had never had problems with her electricity bills until she was moved to a new old person’s bungalow last November.

South Denbighshire Community Partnership; Margaret Sutherland . Picture Mandy Jones

She had been repaying the huge bill at £6 a week on top of what she uses and with another hike in energy costs expected on April 1 she feared she wouldn’t live to see her debt wiped out.

Jo said: “I always used to put £40 into my pre-payment meter every week and that covered my electricity use but the new system in this house doesn’t allow me to do that any more.

“I’m on an air-source heating system but it seemed twice as expensive as it was before in my previous home which was only a few doors away.  It’s was as if I was paying for someone else’s electricity as well.

“I’ve never had mental health problems before , even when I lost people close to me – of course, I was upset but I wasn’t depressed.

“But I just felt myself going down and down and down every day.

“I was using a camp stove to boil water because every time I turn the cooker or the kettle on the meter was going up and up.

“I stopped smoking years ago but I had to buy a packet last week because it was the only thing I thought could help me cope.

“I didn’t want to go to my grave knowing that I owe that money – it was going to take me years to pay nearly £700 at £6 a week?”

The rising cost of energy and its effect in an area which has a significant problem with rural poverty and isolation, particularly among older people, is an issue that SDCP have taken steps to address since they received  funding from the National Lottery Community Fund 4 years ago.

Since then the grant-funded community charity with its headquarters at Canolfan Ni in Corwen and with a remit to combat rural poverty, has helped local people claim unpaid benefits, introduced community transport along the Dee Valley, run a meals on wheels service and even pioneered its own hydro-electric power scheme.

It uses water from the Pen y Pigyn Reservoir high above Corwen to drive a turbine in the town to supply up to 40 homes with heating and light and SDCP are making 20 places on that list available to those in fuel poverty

Margaret Sutherland said: “The key message I want to get out is that if people have any concerns about their energy costs then just like Jo they can come to us.

“We can help. We work very closely and well with Denbighshire County Council and we can make the calls to those phone lines that keep you hanging on for ages, ask you to press different buttons and shuffle you from one call-taker to another.

“We can play telephone bingo with the energy providers on your behalf, we can look at the bills and we can help with other issues like how to operate a heating system properly and efficiently.

“There are grants and schemes available and we know all about them and we can access them on behalf of people who need and are eligible to. We are even looking to put people onto our renewable energy scheme to help cut their bills.”

For more about how SDCP can help with energy bills and about their work in the community go to https://www.canolfan-ni.org/ or to https://www.facebook.com/sdcpartnership and for those in need of support contact SDCP on 01490 266004.