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Solar fund to target cold homes

Martin PeakeMartin Peake of Beat the Cold aims to help patients discharged to cold, damp homes in parts of Stoke and Stafford in a scheme funded by solar panels on local hospital buildings.

A community fund generated by revenues from solar panels on hospitals in Stoke and Stafford provides help to patients suffering from respiratory illnesses.The aim is to tackle fuel poverty and improve living conditions for people who are discharged from hospital, in a bid to prevent them being readmitted with recurring symptoms. It is hoped this will relieve pressure on A&E departments, particularly over the winter months when conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema can become much worse as a result of the cold and damp.

The fund is born out of a project called Saving Lives With Solar - a collaboration between Southern Staffordshire Community Energy (SSCE) and University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) - which has raised nearly £350,000 to install more than 1000 solar panels on hospital roofs at several sites in Stoke and Stafford, and also at St Giles Hospice, Whittington, near Lichfield. Some of the revenues from the electricity produced by the panels go into the Community Fund, estimated to amount to more than £300,000 over the 20-year lifetime of the project.

Community Fund

The aims of the Fund are threefold:

  • Combat fuel poverty in Stoke and Stafford.
  • Identify patients with respiratory disease (especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD) and those who are frail elderly who live in cold/damp homes.
  • Reduce number of A&E 'frequent fliers'.

The 'frequent fliers' are patients who regularly attend A&E. Often these are frail and elderly people, a substantial proportion of whom will require admission. Obviously, this means fewer beds available for new patients, contributing to what is known in the trade as "congestive hospital failure".

cold damp corner

Nursing staff at the hospitals are trained to identify patients whose illnesses are related to cold homes. With their consent, the patients are referred to Stoke-based charity Beat the Cold, whose advisors visit them at home. The range of help on offer includes:

  • Advice on behavioural change and safe ways to save on fuel costs
  • Identifying any energy efficiency measures that could make life more comfortable - and advice on how to fund them
  • Help with switching to the most economical tariffs and payment methods
  • Support with claiming benefits so that income is maximised - e.g. claiming Warm Homes Discount
  • Support with fuel debts or issues with energy suppliers
A cold interior leads to condensation, a combination that can worsen chest complaints, especially in the frail and elderly. Image courtesy of Centre for Sustainable Energy.

Early start for pilot scheme

Thanks to a grant of £10,000 from NEA, a pilot scheme was run over winter 2016-17. Martin Peake, Business Development Manager at Beat the Cold, remarked: "This grant gives us a great start, 12 months earlier than first envisaged! It will enable us to make over 70 home visits in two target areas of Stoke beginning this autumn."

The pilot wil be reviewed over the winter, and funding assessed for potentially expanding the scheme to cover a wider geographical area, including County Hospital Stafford. The main scheme is expected to be launched in September 2017, when the panels should be giving a steady income stream.