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We have been working in partnership with Citizens Advice since October 2014 to fund specialist Energy Debt Advisors who can offer more in-depth and holistic fuel poverty advice, referrals and support, as well as addressing wider health, affordability and other social issues. Our customers receive financial advice and support across multiple sources including energy switching, billing and meter reading issues, debt relief, access to benefits etc.
Since starting the programme we have continued to make improvements to it, including identifying formal outreach partners in the vulnerable communities, introducing our Green Doctors to the programme to strengthen support and referrals around energy savings and efficiency in the home. The programme has also been expanded to include energy training for 20 volunteers to expand reach, upskill community supporters.
Citizens Advice are already established, respected and trusted by customers locally, to deal with complex financial and wider social issues through their existing networks and experience. Citizens Advice have their own network of local and community organisations to extend their outreach and are open to learning from and working with our existing partners.
Since 2015 we have been working with the Trussell Trust, supporting them to expand and enhance their network in order to encourage collaborative working across our community partnerships. Our annual fund focuses on supporting expansion and sustainability of existing foodbanks. In these foodbanks we have also had the opportunity to support further training of the volunteers, including Mental Health First Aid training.
We have also focused on More Than Food grants to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship; enabling foodbanks to provide specialist debt and benefits advice along with wellbeing and health support.
Working with Trussell Trust allows us to expand and enhance our referrals between partners by extending our reach into communities through a trusted partner who is helping those at their most vulnerable.
Our partnership with the Children’s Society is reaching out to socially excluded young people aged 10-18 and their families in the Tees Valley. The project addresses complex personal and social barriers that limit some young people’s life chances, and helps them develop aspirations and fulfill their potential. The project adopts a holistic and multi-faceted approach to supporting, nurturing and progressing young people.
This achieved by targeting support with young people and their families and group programmes for young people addressing personal resilience and preparing them for transition to adulthood and employment. This project also works with 20 statutory and voluntary partners in Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton on Tees, Redcar and Cleveland.
The young adults that the Children’s Society are working with are supported to develop better coping strategies, engage in positive activities, develop aspirations for learning and work, and reconnect with family and the wider community. Individual plans are developed and monitored around emotional wellbeing, substance misuse, employment, accommodation, money, relationships, stress, alcohol, drugs, health, and happiness. All beneficiaries have progression routes identified during, and beyond, their engagement with the project.
Working with the Children’s Society enables us to build on our education and outreach programme to engage hard to reach young people who are socially excluded. It allows us to do this through an experienced organisation and its outreach partners.
Our Infrastructure North partnership has been in place since 2013. It is a model we have developed, partnering with the other utilities in our region – Northern Gas Networks, Yorkshire Water and Northumbrian Water - to work together to share learning and address shared issues. This is now an area of best practice that other DNOs have adopted. Our social group meets quarterly to engage with our third sector partners and deliver projects which support our shared agendas. Here are some of the activities we take part in with our Infrastructure North partnerships:
- Community week: To raise awareness of winter preparedness, boost sign-up to the Priority Services Register and extend our local referral partners by engaging with frontline agencies in Yorkshire and the North East. We attend community events to engage with hard to reach customers and frontline workers at Housing Associations, libraries, foodbanks, Citizens Advice offices.
- Golden Guide: Targeting older people in Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham, the Golden Guide, with comprehensive information, advice and guidance on energy saving and additional support has included two Infrastructure North advertisements. The adverts promote the enhanced services that the utility companies can offer to vulnerable customers.
- Data sharing with Northern Gas Networks: We have a mutually beneficial arrangement in place with NGN for them to access our PSR customer information provided through a comprehensive data sharing agreement. In return, NGN encourage their engineers and frontline staff to sign up vulnerable customers to our PSR register so that we can provide them with extra help when they need it most.
Working with other regional utilities allows us to share resources in order to reduce duplication, maximise efficiency and deliver coherent messaging and support for our shared vulnerable customers. Partnering with other external organisations further extends our networks, allowing us to benefit from our individually established partnerships.
This is our flagship energy efficiency scheme in partnership with Northern Gas Networks. We are supporting the Green Doctors to alleviate fuel poverty at household level and enable vulnerable service users to stay warm whilst saving money on energy bills.
The Green Doctors visit our customers in their homes to install small energy efficiency measures and to offer energy efficiency advice. They also help customers to submit applications for grants to maximise their income.
In addition, the Green Doctors offer training to Trussell trust volunteers and our own volunteers to help them to become Green Nurses in order to extend the reach of their advice and support. In the first six months of the service, Green Doctor visited 302 vulnerable homes helping 763 beneficiaries by installing 1,621 energy efficiency measures and providing advice, support and onwards referrals saving customers in excess of £90,000.
The Green Doctors also helped customers in many other ways; installing carbon monoxide detectors in homes and signing customers up to our Priority Services Register.
Energy Heroes is a practical, engaging programme teaching children to be energy literate, a lifelong skill that is the first step in gaining energy awareness around efficiency, fuel poverty alleviation and the challenges of climate change.
This programme supports students in Year 5 to look at these issues, share learning with parents and improve their mathematics skills. The programme includes teacher training sessions, comprehensive resources, energy audit, up to six weeks in-school programme and a Community Energy Extra Event pack. Energy Extra is a robust mechanism for project evaluation and allows opportunity for beneficiaries to share learning with peers and the wider community.
The scheme is targeted at some of the most deprived areas in our region. Vulnerabilities include those from low income / fuel poor families and lack of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills. Our aim is to support our local communities through energy efficiency advice and presentations, as well as introducing ‘Home challenges’ to save energy in pupils’ homes.
The programme also benefits our customers by encouraging students to improve their data handling and problem solving skills, empowering families to reduce their fuel bills, and helping communities understand the benefits of CO2 reduction.
By working in partnership with My Green Investment on Energy Heroes, we benefit from their presence and experience through a large number of initiatives across our region, as well as maximising local links to schools.