One of the most vital services that we provide at Groundwork Greater Nottingham, particularly in the winter, is the Green Doctor service. This week I spoke to Mike Blackham, who runs this initiative, about his work.
When the cold sets in, with the seasons changing and the days getting shorter, people spend more time in their homes and, as a result, more money on energy. Not everyone, unfortunately, gets good value from their energy provider, and nor do they have well-built, energy-efficient housing. That’s where Mike comes in.
‘Everyone should have a right to warmth,’ and unfortunately, the way things are now, that isn’t the case; in his role as Green Doctor, Mike helps individuals, households, and families who struggle to keep warm.
He aims to educate people on fuel poverty, calling attention to an issue that only seems to get noticed in the winter. The summer months, Mike admits, are a little bit quieter in that regard, although similar problems come to light; houses are not well-insulated, and that leads to overheating in the hot months- just as it leads to miserable, cold conditions in the winter.
In recent years, erratic weather cycles and heatwaves have come to be expected- so there’s also the climate element to consider. Is the aim of his work to help abate the oncoming climate disaster? Well, in a sense it is, but ‘personally, looking to help individuals out’ is his main concern. The idea is that little by little, with every household he helps- be it through changing energy suppliers, installing LED lightbulbs or simply making them aware of how they are wasting energy- Mike will make a difference, improving those individuals’ lives as well as cutting down on our collective energy output.
According to figures released by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, approximately 13.4% of British households are in fuel poverty, and 13.9% of households in the East Midlands. With the impact of Covid-19 on household income, and a hike in energy prices, that number is likely to keep rising.
Fuel poverty can have several knock-on effects; whether it’s affecting someone’s mental health, increasing their susceptibility to illness or leading to debt, the results can be devastating. Excess winter deaths can be avoided by ensuring fuel poverty is eradicated.
Mike tells me that, among the people he has reached through his work, it often can be a case of ‘heat or eat.’ Having to make that choice- or choosing both and then running the risk of falling into debt- is a harsh reality for many.
Who has benefited from the Green Doctor service?
Mike has helped individuals who were over £3000 in debt, contacting providers on their behalf and working toward solutions. In some cases, these problems are partly due to inefficient heating systems that can then be replaced with more energy-efficient, cost-effective measures.
He helped a man whose debt was getting out of control- to the point where legal action was threatened- and helped him arrange payments to start paying it off gradually.
There are schemes in operation- run by energy providers and government- that try to help those struggling with fuel poverty, but these are usually not enough. People are simply unaware of trust funds, for example, that have been set up by energy companies; often, they fall into a mindset that they are on their own with their fuel poverty. To apply for these funds, however, people must have a budget or financial statement, which can be obtained through speaking to debt advice charities – this extends the process and can cause some to feel it is not worth the hassle. Mike admits that it is not straight-forward but is still worth going through.
Mike can help people diagnose their problems, then point them toward the services they need and provide them with advice along the way. As well as consulting on services and schemes, Mike advises on how to get the most out of home heating systems, how to reduce condensation/mould issues and can even install low-cost energy saving measures- such as draught excluders and LED lightbulbs- for free.
If you, or someone you know, believe they might need the assistance of the Green Doctor service, contact us for a referral:
Alternatively, you can phone 07771 362 853.
There are eligibility requirements, although they are quite broad so we can usually find a way to help anyone who needs it across the Greater Nottingham area. Even if you’re not based locally, we have Green Doctors operating across the country to help.
Found this interesting? Have a read of our newest Green Doctor newsletter Green Doctor Newsletter October 2021
Matthew Thomas, Community Development Assistant
Michael Blackham, Green Doctor