Winter warmth project crucial for Leeds
The report revealed that, in 2012-13, practical support was provided to almost 15,000 households and that the social activity of vulnerable people in Leeds was successfully increased.
Evaluation of the impact of the scheme by the Health Together team at Leeds Met's Institute for Health and Wellbeing involved around 30 voluntary and community sector organisations in the city who delivered services to a variety of vulnerable groups.
The Leeds Met team concluded that the scheme makes a crucial difference to the city and its vulnerable residents. These include not just the elderly but also those with health concerns, those on low incomes (including families) and those who may not be able to access information. Furthermore, the report recommended further schemes should be implemented both in Leeds and across England. The evaluation will now be used as supporting evidence to secure future funding for the scheme.
Leeds City Council Health Improvement Specialist, Myrte Elbers, said: "Over the past 50 years the number of extra winter deaths has reduced significantly, but around 390 extra deaths still occurred in Leeds over the winter in 2012. The winter months also take their toll on those with existing health conditions such as high blood pressure, respiratory diseases and mental health problems. That is why we are so determined to work with communities to help people deal with the problems winter can bring."
Councillor Lisa Mulherin, Chair of the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board, commented: "This research is helpful evidence for us as we make tough decisions about the most effective ways to help people in the city be healthy. The council has provided significant funding and support to groups across the city to continue delivering winter support this year, following central government finance being removed. The research shows that by linking services across the city and ensuring we deliver help to those who need it, we can not only prevent unnecessary deaths but improve people's quality of life too. I look forward to the closer working between teams continuing as they use the evidence from this study to make a real difference."
Services provided through the project included:
. Care and Repair Leeds, who provided emergency repairs to heating and hot water systems and provision of temporary heating;
. Groundwork Leeds, who gave energy efficiency advice and support;
. Leeds Community Foundation, who gave small grants for community events and services supporting vulnerable people over the winter including emergency boxes containing hot water bottles, bed socks, scarves and tinned food;
. Leeds and Chapeltown Citizens Advice Bureau, who provided benefits, utilities and debt advice to vulnerable households; and
. St George's Crypt, who provided extra emergency beds for homeless people.
The services were also able to refer households to Leeds City Council's Wrap Up Leeds Plus scheme, which provided insulation and heating.
The team at Leeds Met, led by Research Fellow Jenny Woodward, conducted in-depth interviews with the professionals involved in delivering the services and through focus groups with those who had received services such as new boilers, house insulation, luncheon clubs and emergency boxes. Focus groups were carried out by Leeds Metropolitan University Masters student, Jacqueline Karuhanga, as part of her studies.
Jenny said: "It has been great to have a role in such a positive project. We found that there was a very high demand for these services, with many organisations feeling that they were only scratching the surface. We found that many people, especially older people, felt cut off both physically and socially during the winter so in future years similar schemes need to focus both on providing practical help and support and reducing social isolation during winter months."
One such person had been identified as an elderly gentleman living on his own by one of the project's volunteers. He had no contact with family and only left the house to go to the local shop. The volunteers delivered him an emergency box as a way of making contact with him. He was grateful and asked to be visited again and, as a result, an outreach worker began visiting him regularly and encouraged him to attend the local Tuesday Club which he now continues to attend every week.