Imagine living in a house so cold, you stay in bed all day just to keep warm. This is the reality for hundreds of social housing tenants, as Jess McCabe discovered on the job with an affordable warmth officer
Graham Parker (name has been changed) answers the door in his dressing gown. It is 10.30am, but if his Runcorn neighbours are thinking of the 57-year-old, ‘blinds down, living a life on benefits’, as George Osborne famously put it, they don’t know Mr Parker very well.
In fact, the neighbours are unlikely to make any such assumptions. Walking up the narrow path to Mr Parker’s front door, the lawn is perfectly manicured and prettily planted. Inside, the house is immaculate and almost entirely white; everything from the carpet to the curtains is in Mr Parker’s favourite colour. Cat ornaments are everywhere, adding to the homey aura – the more you look, the more you find, from the tiny porcelain cat on the windowsill to the draft excluder, which is shaped like a line of cats. But there is a problem. The house is very, very cold.
‘Just feel me hand,’ he says in a soft Liverpudlian accent. It’s very cold. There is little discernible difference between the temperature outside and the temperature inside the house.
In fact, the whole of the two-bedroom property where he has lived for 15 years is cold. Until a few days ago, he shared his home with his black cat, named Ovinnik after the Polish goddess – he shows me a shaky video of her. But Ovinnik died, aged 20, and now she is gone, Mr Parker lives alone.
He used to have an active career as a gardener, and before that as a barber. All that changed when he contracted HIV; subsequently, he was hit by a series of debilitating illnesses. Two years ago, he had a stroke. Now a typical day involves staying in bed, his only source of warmth an electric blanket.
Sustainable Housing is visiting Mr Parker with Michelle Melvin, the first affordable warmth officer to be appointed by his landlord, 53,500-home Riverside, which is one of the many social landlords with staff dedicated to energy efficiency advice (see box, overleaf: Found in translation). We are spending the day with Ms Melvin, as she visits a handful of the 9,000 tenants in her patch. Her job description is simple: to help tenants save money, and do what she can to ensure they can afford to heat their homes to a safe temperature.
Read the rest in today’s issue of Sustainable Housing, or on the Inside Housing website
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