Solihull’s Affordable Warmth Solutions celebrates a decade of tackling fuel poverty

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Affordable Warmth Solutions celebrates its ten year anniversary, having helped 90,000 families to live in a warm, dry home.

The Community Interest Company, based in central Solihull, has connected 48,000 homes to cheaper and more efficient gas central heating for the very first time and helped a further 42,000 households with insulation, energy efficiency advice, access to discounted heating and other initiatives.

The results have enabled some of the UK’s poorest communities to save a collective £200 million in fuel bills and has reduced the UK’s Carbon Dioxide emissions by 3.5 million tonnes – the equivalent of taking 580,000 cars permanently off the road.

Mike Foster, the independent chair of Affordable Warmth Solutions, said: “To have to live without the basic human right of a warm, dry home can have such a debilitating impact on every aspect of life and is a terrible and unacceptable injustice in modern society.

“Connecting people to the gas grid is one of the most cost-effective ways of dealing with fuel poverty. It offers cheaper bills and ticks a lot of boxes in terms of quality of life, health and savings to society as a whole.

“We’ve seen the tremendous benefits that it can have on their wider quality of life and opportunities – not only in terms of their physical health and mental health, but in terms of their ability to pursue their goals and dreams too.”

Affordable Warmth Solutions was established as a Community Interest Company in 2009 as part of Ofgem’s agreement with National Grid to connect 5,000 fuel poor households, in some of the most deprived areas in the UK, to the gas network within five years.

Having met the initial target three years ahead of schedule, Affordable Warmth Solutions has continued to work with National Grid – and now also with Cadent – to offer vulnerable households free or heavily discounted gas connections and, through its partners, new or improved central heating systems, as well as cavity wall and loft insulation.

In addition, in 2017, following the sale of its Gas Distribution networks to Cadent, National Grid and Affordable Warmth Solutions established the Warm Homes Fund, through a voluntary £150 million contribution by National Grid.

The fund is designed to work in partnership with local authorities, housing associations, registered social landlords and other organisations across England, Wales and Scotland, to address some of the issues affecting fuel poor households.

Affordable Warmth Solutions is also working towards a future without fuel poverty by equipping the next generation with the skills they need to address these kinds of social issues.

Through the Malcolm Wicks Bursary scheme, in memory of its first non-Executive Chair Malcom Wicks MP, who died in 2012, Affordable Warmth Solutions has supported 21 university students from Croydon, North Yorkshire, and London, who are studying (or about to study) for a STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) or social science degree.

Despite all this work, fuel poverty continues to hold millions of families in its grip – with around 4 million families in the UK still struggling with expensive, inflexible and ineffective heating systems (including solid fuel burners and electric storage heaters). The work of Affordable Warmth Solutions now continues into its second decade, seeking to ensure that more and more families in the UK can afford to live in a warm, dry home.

Managing Director Jeremy Nesbitt is keen to hear from local councils, housing associations and other potential partners who may have residents that could benefit: “We now work with several dozens of local authorities – but I want it to be many more and I urge councils to contact us to see how they can benefit”, he said.

“The National Grid £150m Warm Homes Fund and investment by Cadent in new gas connections is designed to inspire tangible, powerful and long-lasting change for vulnerable / low income households. The challenge for us in the next decade is to identify additional sources of funding and invest it in more of these households, in order to give them a better quality of life, as quickly as possible.”