Ashden UK Award
Severn Wye Energy Agency (SWEA)
It is well documented that living in a cold, damp home aggravates respiratory and cardiovascular illness, and may increase the risk of accidents. Improvements to energy efficiency and heating are effective at improving comfort and health, as well as saving energy and money. There are schemes to help with the up-front costs, but often those most in need do not know, or understand, what can be done.
So the Severn Wye Energy Agency (SWEA) set up the 'Gloucestershire Warm and Well' partnership, bringing together seven local authorities with a range of organisations working on health and community support, to get improved insulation and heating to those who need it most. The scheme is run throughout Gloucestershire and offers energy saving measures and advice to both homeowners and private rented tenants. Discounts and advice are available for everyone, and free installations are offered to those on low incomes, with health problems, or aged over 70. The active involvement of the health and community sectors has helped to identify the neediest households.
Severn Wye Energy Agency is a charity and limited company, established in 1999 under the EU SAVE programme. Initial funding came from the European Commission, Forest of Dean District Council and the Rural Development Commission. SWEA has a track record of managing successful initiatives to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy in Gloucestershire.
'Gloucestershire Warm and Well' can provide a range of preventative measures, including insulation for lofts, cavity walls, hot-water tanks, and draught-proofing; and central heating systems, including replacement boilers, radiator panels and thermostatic valves. They can also provide solar water-heating systems, although at present this is a very minor part of their work. All installations use standard, off-the-shelf, technology and are carried out mainly by Domestic and General Insulation Ltd (DGI), who currently have the installation contract for the project.
Between October 2001, when the programme started, and March 2006, Warm and Well has advised 16,182 householders, and improved 8,957 properties (3.6% of homes in Gloucestershire). This has included insulating cavity walls in 4,128 properties and 5,715 lofts and supplying 10,176 energy saving light bulbs.
The scheme also offers energy efficiency advice via telephone, written reports, information leaflets and home visits.
Specific groups of vulnerable customers receive 100% grants for the measures installed. These include those on low incomes, people with disabilities and those aged over 70. Other customers have to pay a proportion of the cost. SWEA emphasises that all households can get some help from the programme through the discount schemes which they offer, although the major financial support is for those in most need.
The only training needed for householders is on operation of new heating systems. DGI provided additional training to the teams of people who carry out the work.
SWEA have briefed local organisations working with older or vulnerable people, and trained health and social care professionals about energy efficiency and avoiding damp homes. These professionals understand the importance of the scheme, and learn how to identify and refer people who would benefit. This forms part of SWEA's 'Active Warm and Well' programme that links key messages on energy with wider information on health. Over 300 people have been trained.
SWEA places a strong emphasis on monitoring and customer satisfaction. Householders receive a satisfaction survey, to which the majority of the responses are either "good" or "very good". Any problems are followed up. The installation contract is re-tendered at intervals to maintain value and quality.
SWEA estimate that the measures installed to date could save households as much as 55 GWh of energy, equivalent to £1.6 million, per year if all the benefits were to be taken as energy savings (as opposed to increased comfort). This is not only a significant financial benefit to households, it also represents an impressive return on investment. The total value of measures installed is about £5.2 million, so the time to pay back investment from energy saved is about three years.
The carbon savings are also impressive. Over their lifetime, it it is broadly estimated that the measures installed could save about 330,000 tonnes of CO2.
Living in a cold or damp home is known to aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and may result in more slips, trips and falls. Improved home energy efficiency leads to significant health benefits, especially among lower income groups, and a reduction in excess winter deaths. People live more comfortably, and are able to use more rooms in their houses during the winter. In the most recent survey of customer satisfaction which SWEA has made, 84% of respondents mentioned increased comfort and/or reduced energy bills.
SWEA's wide level of public engagement has helped to raise the general level of awareness of energy efficiency measures and enabled people to make more informed decisions about energy efficiency.
DGI estimates that Warm and Well brought a four-fold increase in business within Gloucestershire private sector housing. This new business is more sustained and is over a bigger geographical area than from previous initiatives, due to the broader scope of the contract. DGI recruited and trained 50 staff, some of whom have now moved to working on other projects within the company as well.
The Warm and Well experience has been used to guide other organisations to set up similar schemes. It has been highlighted as an example of good practice in both the energy sector and the health sector, by organisations including the Energy Saving Trust and the Faculty of Public Health Medicine. Help the Aged have adapted and used the symptoms checklist and referral forms. Warm and Well is included as a good practice case study on the European Commission Manage Energy website.
The Warm and Well project is managed by a steering group, consisting of representatives of the seven local authorities, the Primary Care Trusts and SWEA. There is a strong sense of partnership and enthusiasm, and all parties contribute ideas for improvement and future development. It is linked to the Gloucestershire Affordable Warmth Steering Group.
Ashden UK Award
The contract for carrying out installations is re-tendered regularly, as required by the Local Authority Code of Conduct, and this helps to maintain both the quality and the value of the installation work. To date four different installation companies have been involved.
SWEA offer Warm and Well advice to householders, identify grants and manage the installation. Key people involved within SWEA are the project manager Sarah Giff, who is responsible for dayto-day running; Advice Manager Kaye Welfare, who manages the promotion of the project and the link with the energy efficiency advice centre; and SWEA Director Catrin Maby who developed the initial ideas for the project.
SWEA have worked hard to engage a wide variety of community based organisations in order to reach vulnerable people with advice and help on energy efficiency measures. This included working with existing community projects and local radio in order give advice on benefits, staying warm in winter, and energy efficiency grants.
The link with the Gloucestershire Primary Care Trusts enables close links with health promotion activities and makes it easier to direct help to the most vulnerable people. Warm and Well's links with the Gloucestershire Affordable Warmth Partnership gives it a strong relationship with Citizens Advice Bureaux, Gloucestershire Rural Community Council, Age Concern Gloucestershire and home improvement agencies. Warm and Well also works with other agencies promoting affordable warmth, such as the EAGA Partnership, the HECA Forum and the Warm Front Scheme. The programme is regularly advertised on local radio, events with pensioner associations, and health road-shows.
The scheme is funded mainly by the Local Authorities, with support from Scottish Power and the Primary Care Trusts, and contributions from householders who can afford to pay. Referral fees are paid by the installers for the main measures installed, and these pay the SWEA management costs.
SWEA would like to use part of an award to help them develop their services to other vulnerable groups, such as younger people at risk of cold-related illnesses, families with children, adults with learning difficulties and non-English speakers. They want to develop a package of supporting materials that can be used by other staff (such as social services) and volunteers to communicate with a broader audience, and enable similar activities in other communities across the country.