CHARITY organisers have hailed the success of an appeal to help the elderly and the disadvantaged cope with winter cold after it raised more than £60,000.

The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Surviving Winter appeal was launched in November to help tackle fuel poverty in Wiltshire and Swindon. More than 30,000 people in the county live in fuel poverty, many of them elderly or infirm. Fuel poverty is defined as spending more than 10 per cent of income on fuel.

Fiona Oliver, the community foundation’s director of development and marketing, said: “Health studies show that older people or those with disabilities are more vulnerable in cold weather because they are unable to move around to keep warm. Cold weather can make illnesses associated with respiratory and circulatory conditions far worse.

“Around 300 people die in Wiltshire each year simply because they cannot afford to heat their home properly. We have heard from people who can only heat one room in their home for part of the day, even when temperatures are hovering around freezing outside.”

The appeal has raised £63,000 and £70,000 has been given out to 307 individuals and families across the county.

“The response has been fantastic, people have been very generous,” said Mrs Oliver.

Applicants have been referred to the community foundation by organisations including Age UK, Aster Housing, credit unions and the Citizens Advice Bureau and via the community foundation’s website.

Much of the money has been raised by hundreds of individuals pledging their £200 government Winter Fuel Payment

“The payment isn’t means tested so many people who receive it don’t actually need it to pay their fuel bills,” said Mrs Oliver, “so we have been asking those who feel they can afford it to pledge their payment to us so we can help those less fortunate.”

Donations to the fund came from dozens of individuals as well as organisations and charitable trusts.

Last year individual payments were £200 but rising fuel prices have forced the community foundation to raise the payments to £300 for this year.

Mrs Oliver said: “We are so grateful to everyone who has contributed. We know these payments make a real difference to those who receive them, it really can save a life.”

Aster Group case worker Liz Axford sees the problem at first hand and knows only too well the financial difficulties people face when temperatures fall. She said case workers come across people forced to forego meals, or are reduced to eating poorly, so they can keep their heating on.

Mrs Axford, who is based in Devizes, visits families applying for disability benefits and can quickly recognise fuel poverty. “We walk into a house and see someone huddled under a blanket, there’s a chill in the air. If we are going to help these people we can’t address the issue directly, we have to come at it in a round-about way,” she said.

“But it eventually comes out in conversation that they can’t afford to heat more than a couple of rooms.

“We go through their bills with them and try to work out what their average spend is. When I tell them they qualify for the Surviving Winter fund they say ‘but we’ve already had it’. They get it confused with the Government’s Winter Fuel Payment. When I explain they can get extra help, they look at you with disbelief. This fund really does make a difference and I’d like more people to know about it.”

The appeal will be launched again this November.

Among those helped by the scheme was Janet Philpott, 73. she said: “If I didn’t have this money I’d be huddled on my sofa with a water bottle. It’s such a Godsend.”

That’s how much the Surviving Winter Grant means to Janet Philpott, 73.

She has lived in and around Castle Combe all her life. She is now on her own and struggling to make ends meet in the house next door to the one her mum lived in most of her life and the one in which spent most of her childhood.

It is a post-war home built to cope with the population growth in north Wiltshire and has large rooms with high ceilings that are difficult to keep warm.

Mrs Philpott had both her hips replaced after she retired from Homebase in Chippenham ten years ago. She still finds it hard to move about freely, although she still manages to get outside to chop the wood she needs for her open fire every day. Her Surviving Winter grant helps her stock up on coal and wood for winter.

It is only the second year she has received the grant after being told about it by a friend. “I feel so lucky to have this money, it makes such a difference to what I can afford to do. Without it I’d be cutting back on other things to keep warm,” she said.

As it is she has no heating upstairs apart from a small portable heater and uses her ageing Raeburn cooker to heat the kitchen.

“I love my cooker. It runs on coal and if I lost the electric I always know I can cook on this,” she said.

Being warm and cosy in her homely front room means the world to her, she says. And it keeps her fingers nimble, which means she can indulge in her creative passion, knitting.

She and her friends knit and crochet birthing hats and bed capes for babies and older patients at the Royal United Hospital in Bath. She also knits cat and dog blankets for an animal sanctuary in Dorset.

“I love knitting and I am very pleased to put it to good use,” she said.

“The community foundation’s help is wonderful. If people can afford to donate to it and keep older people warm they will be doing a good thing because it is such a help.”

Also grateful is Vivienne Watson as the £300 Surviving Winter grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation means she can afford to heat her home without worrying about how she will afford to do anything else.

Mrs Watson, 76, is still coming to terms with the death of her husband Tony three years ago. The couple, who had been married 54 years, had moved to Cornwall to be near their daughter when Mr Philpott was diagnosed with a form of dementia four years ago

They decided to move back to Wiltshire and settled in Rowde but Mr Philpott succumbed to his illness a year later aged just 75.

The former self-employed plumber’s death meant an immediate drop in income for his wife and she began to worry about heating her home.

A chance conversation with a friend led to her applying for a grant.

“I couldn’t believe how easy it was or how quickly the money came through,” she said. “It is such a Godsend because it means I have to rely less on my savings when I need extra heating.

“I can top up my Ovo account and I worry less. I never go made with the heating and I still only have it on for a couple of hours in the morning and then it comes on again at 3pm.

“But I know that I need to I can turn it up. I hate being cold, it is just so depressing.”

She is hugely grateful for the money that allows her to stay comfortable throughout the long winter months. “I think the community foundation does such a great thing helping people like me. If people can afford to donate they should think about people less fortunate than themselves. It is such a struggle for older people to keep warm.”

Help was made possible by people like Susan Macdonald who says she feels pledging her Winter Fuel Payment to the fund is the right thing to do.

The former military attache’s wife spent much of her life serving in Nigeria, Romania, Poland and Germany, as well as in postings all over the UK. A year ago she moved to Wiltshire to live with her son and daughter-in-law in Westbury Leigh.

Because Mrs Macdonald has suffered from Parkinson’s disease for 16 years, she understands how those with reduced mobility can find the cold hard to cope with.

“Now that I live in Wiltshire I feel I ought to do something to help,” she said of her donation. “If people can help then they should do because it will make a difference. I am glad that I can do some good.”

She said that because the Winter Fuel Payment is not means tested there are many who receive it that don’t need it. “I think it would be more expensive for the government to exempt those people so I understand why they get it. But people are able to do some good with that money.”

She was delighted to hear Surviving Winter has already raised almost £60,000 in Wiltshire this year. “That is wonderful and it will be able to help a lot of people,” she said.