New research project to investigate how communities can tackle fuel poverty – the silent killer

New research to be conducted on the issue of fuel poverty will help researchers, policy makers and the third sector to understand how community groups can reach the vulnerable and what potential impact local activities could have. Dr Mari Martiskainen from the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED)1, together with Dr Giovanna Speciale from South East London Community Energy (SELCE)2, have received a grant from The Chesshire Lehmann Fund3 to investigate the effectiveness of the ‘energy shop’ model, as a response to fuel poverty.

Despite repeated government pledges to banish fuel poverty once and for all, it is a persistent issue affecting an estimated 2.35 million households in the UK, with several thousand people dying every year because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Others suffer from ill health, with damp and cold homes causing a range of problems including respiratory diseases, anxiety and depression. Fuel poverty literally is a silent killer that has been allowed to shadow energy debates in the UK for years. However, thanks to communities such as SELCE, new ways are emerging to address fuel poverty.

A number of community energy groups in the UK, including SELCE, have hosted an ‘energy shop’, an energy advice service run by community groups to help local people living in fuel poverty. The new research aims to answer questions such as what kinds of support can be provided effectively through ‘energy shops’ and what actions were taken by those in fuel poverty as a result of the advice they received.

Dr Giovanna Speciale, from SELCE said that “SELCE is delighted to be working with experts at the CIED on a project that is not only of theoretical interest, but one whose findings will be translated into effective community based action to address fuel poverty.”

Previous research has shown that community groups can be well-placed to access ‘hard to reach groups’, such as those living in fuel poverty, and tackle such issues directly with local people4. Dr Mari Martiskainen from CIED said that “Despite numerous efforts, fuel poverty still persists in the UK, which is unacceptable. We need new thinking on how to address it. The Chesshire Lehmann Trust grant provides a great opportunity for CIED to work with a pro-active community group such as SELCE and help to test, as well as conceptualise ways of dealing with fuel poverty”. Dr Brenda Boardman and Dr Anne Feltham, trustees of the Chesshire Lehmann Fund said “Chesshire Lehmann Fund is delighted to be supporting this work into the effectiveness of energy advice and are certain that the results of the research will be of interest to policy makers at all levels.”

Dr Giovanna Speciale from South East London Community Energy, Dr Brenda Boardman and Dr Anne Feltham, trustees of Chesshire Lehmann Fund, and Dr Mari Martiskainen, from Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand. Image by Nora Blascsok

Dr Giovanna Speciale from South East London Community Energy, Dr Brenda Boardman and Dr Anne Feltham, trustees of Chesshire Lehmann Fund, and Dr Mari Martiskainen, from Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand. Image by Nora Blascsok


Notes for Editors:

  1. The Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) investigates the drivers and barriers to low energy innovations throughout the economy and the implications of these innovations for energy demand. CIED aims to uncover the processes and mechanisms through which different types of innovations become (or fail to become) established, identify the role of different groups, explore the resulting impacts on energy demand, and develop recommendations for both facilitating the diffusion of such innovations and maximising their long-term impact.
  1. South East London Community Energy (SELCE), is a cooperatively owned not-for-profit social enterprise that is committed to enabling organisations that provide valued community services to access the benefits of renewable energy, and also to providing tangible improvement in the financial situation of those living in fuel poverty in South East London. SELCE is currently working towards launching a community share offer in Summer 2015 that will enable four community schools in Greenwich and Lewisham to access solar electricity. In their first year of operation, SELCE has accessed grant funds that have allowed them to provide advice and support to 388 local residents at risk of fuel poverty.
  1. Professor John Chesshire and Dr Peter Lehmann were both Fabian socialists who had a commitment to community and environmental energy causes long before awareness of climate change became widespread. Their academic backgrounds provided them with the ability to build an intellectual framework which, combined with their natural down-to-earth communication skills, meant that few politicians could refute their arguments that capital expenditure on insulation, more efficient heating systems, lighting and appliances, coupled with advice on energy efficiency was the sustainable solution to fuel poverty. Both men were very active across a range of professional bodies and were also engaged in charitable causes linked to energy efficiency and poverty alleviation. The Chesshire Lehmann Fund has been established in their memory with the primary objective being to support academics and community groups wishing to undertake active research or evaluation into the relationship between fuel poverty and energy efficiency.
  1. Seyfang, G., Hielscher, S., Hargreaves, T., Martiskainen, M. and Smith, A. (2014) A grassroots sustainable energy niche? Reflections on community energy in the UK. Journal of Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 13. pp. 21-44. ISSN 2210-4224.
  1. For further enquiries, contact Dr Mari Martiskainen ( ) or Dr Giovanna Speciale on ( )


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