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Orbit Housing Association helping their tenants keep warm and well this winter

Orbit has 46,000 homes across the Midlands, East and South East, with around 40% of these in Coventry and Warwickshire.

Orbit provides a whole range of support for its tenants and recent insight gained from their tenants has found many are eating less to help make ends meet, have difficulty paying core bills, such as heating and electricity, and because of this are suffering significant mental health issues.

Recognising that many were struggle with rising energy bills this winter, they commissioned National Energy Action to support their tenants and hold Winter Wellbeing events. National Energy Action is a fuel poverty charity that provides energy use advice and follow-up appointments if needed. All Orbit households are invited to attend an event local to them and these are held in either Orbit’s own community hubs or, where they don’t have them, other community venues.

At these events, people are given winter warmth packs containing items to help them stay warm in their homes and help keep their energy bills down – including flasks, fleecy blankets, draft excluders, reflective radiator panels, thermometer cards, wind-up torches, sachets of hot chocolate and soup and LED light bulbs.

As well as National Energy Action, the events were supported by other organisations to help tenants with everything from debt to mental health, recognising that energy poverty has wider implications to the people they provide homes for.

To date, National Energy Action has supported 152 Orbit customers and each one has saved on average £313 on energy bills. These events will be continuing into February and March with further events planned for Coventry and Warwickshire tenants.

Key to Orbit’s engagement and support with tenants are Community Connectors and this team has recently expanded with two new Connectors starting in Nuneaton and Rugby and South Warwickshire this Spring.

The Community Connectors will have a regular presence across the community hubs  and the team’s recent recruitment drive recognises a change in the way they engage with their tenants since the pandemic. As well as running the Winter Wellbeing events, they will be trained to provide information, advice and guidance and aim to hold regular drop-in events in local community hubs.

Orbit Place Area Lead, Emily Brunsdon, shares the story of one of the tenants she saw at a Winter Wellbeing event:

“One of our customers who attended has been living in the same property for 18 years. The increase in the cost of living meant he felt he couldn’t afford to heat his home properly. He talked about it being really cold at home and how this had impacted on his mental health.

“He was able to receive support from National Energy Action and found he was also eligible for a voucher to help towards his energy bills.

“The customer also said it had been nice to be at event as he had been feeling isolated at home. He told us he was going to come to the MIND café more often and had an interest in wood crafting so wanted to look into this once the weather improved.

“He was also keen to move properties and so we explained the process for this and shared contact details for the local council to get more information about how to go about this.

“At one event we were able to provide support to pay and reduce his energy bills, help with his feeling of loneliness and isolation and signpost him to the council so he could find out if he could move home.”

With many people dealing with increasing energy and food bills, social isolation, loneliness and mental health issues, the Winter Wellbeing events and community hubs will provide somewhere that not only offers practical advice and support, but also a safe, warm space and a chance to meet people and grab a hot drink.