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Community Windpower's East Lothian Energy Fund delivers 500,000 in two months

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It has been a whirlwind two months for the East Lothian Energy Fund, which was established in December 2022 by renewable energy developer Community Windpower (CWL) and supported directly by CWL’s Aikengall wind farm array in East Lothian. So far, out of the £1 million fund, over £500,000 has been distributed to over 900 individuals and families across East Lothian to assist with their winter energy bills and rising costs due to the current cost-of-living crisis. This unique initiative is a partnership between Community Windpower, Advice Direct Scotland, and East Lothian Council.

In this cost-of-living crisis, rising energy bills and costs across the board are affecting the health and well-being of many people across Scotland. This fund supports the most vulnerable in East Lothian and is proving to be a great success, helping so many people in the area.

A dedicated website (www.communityadvice.scot) is operational for either individuals or trusted referral partners to apply through.  There are over 135 referral partners on board, including East Lothian Council, housing associations, Haddington Citizens Advice Bureau, Marie Curie Scotland, Macmillan Cancer Care, and BeGreen Dunbar. These referral partners can guide the individuals through the application process if required, however, most applications to date have been through the individual/household route.

In terms of eligibility, those on means-tested benefits, and those with a terminal illness, can qualify for the fund, and may also be eligible for additional enhanced payments. The importance of providing additional support in this cost-of-living crisis to terminally ill people is because those who have received a terminal diagnosis often require warm houses or supportive medical equipment to ease the impact of their illnesses.

Following a successful application, payments can be made directly to an individual’s energy supplier or in the form of vouchers for pre-payment meters, which can remove the unnecessary stress and concern around winter energy bills. Energy suppliers such as Scottish Power, Scottish Gas/British Gas, and Octopus Energy have directly received thousands of pounds from the funds to cover the costs of the higher winter bills. Enhanced payments using cash-out vouchers are also provided in some cases to individuals and families, providing greater flexibility around how the East Lothian Energy Fund can support vulnerable people with their escalating energy and living costs.

Speaking on the flexibility and broad reach of the fund, Advice Direct Scotland’s Deputy CEO, Pamela Stewart, said: “This money has not only helped keep the lights on, but put food on the table, fuel in the car, and kept kids in shoes for school.”

Anouska Woods, Community Coordinator at BeGreen Dunbar, has been fielding applications directly at our BeGreen Advice Centre on the High Street in Dunbar. Anouska said: “We’ve seen a huge increase of people coming in to the Centre, asking about the fund or simply sharing their worries and concerns. This fund provides real financial help and is a pillar of emotional support at this difficult time; we are truly touched when people reach out to tell us how this support has improved their mental wellbeing. One applicant from Dunbar said they can now afford to purchase food and heat their home. They said: “It is amazing that this help comes from the wind turbines up on Aikengall above the town, I used to go walking up there when I was a child. It is great that the fund can help local people quickly in their time of need. Anouska & Eldon helped me through the process, and received the help within a couple of days, which was so welcome.”

In regard to the continued success of the fund, Paul McLennan, SNP MSP for East Lothian, said: ”When the fund was first announced I said it would be a ‘game changer’ for the people in East Lothian, but I never imagined how vital it would be. The Council and other referral partners have been able to utilise the fund to help over 900 families and individuals in East Lothian, and, in particular, the most vulnerable. The fund has only been going for just over two months now and has awarded over £500,000; the difference it has made is simply staggering. Well done to Community Windpower for working with the Council and Advice Direct to make sure this fund was available before the winter cold snap, without it I cannot imagine how desperate December and January would have been for many in East Lothian. I believe that other renewable energy developers should engage with similar schemes, creating a support network across Scotland that assists as many vulnerable people as possible.”

Council Leader Norman Hampshire said: “At a time when many households have been worried about heating their homes and the impact of other bills and rising costs, the energy fund has been providing vital support for people in East Lothian. It has been a welcome addition to the financial support available, coinciding with colder weather in the winter months, and complements council initiatives to support individuals and families who are financially vulnerable. We welcome the fact that £500,000 of support has now been provided as a result of this very effective partnership between Community Windpower, Advice Direct Scotland and East Lothian Council.”

Keith MacDonald, Financial Inclusion Team Leader at East Lothian Council, added: “Our team is working directly with families that have benefited from the energy fund, which is supported from Community Windpower’s onshore wind farms near Aikengall. Many have been under exceptional financial pressure through this winter period. The positive impact of the energy fund cannot be underestimated. Many people have told us that they felt relieved to be able to go to their families with good news, a pressure had been lifted. These payments help people financially, but the benefits go well beyond this. For many it has helped them emotionally and mentally. The process from application to payment has been smooth and very fast. Being able to get money to families quickly has been vitally important. It is fantastic to see to how well this collaboration has worked together.”

Finally, Rod Wood, Community Windpower’s Managing Director said: “When we set up this fund, we appreciated that there would be a need for the support it offered, however we did not imagine how great that need would be. We have been humbled by the stories filtering through from both Anouska at BeGreen and the team at Advice Direct, which have shown how much the support offered means to families and individuals in the area. It reinforces what an important part the Scottish renewable industry can play in supporting vulnerable families and individuals across Scotland. I echo Paul’s comments, and I urge fellow energy developers to follow our lead by committing to a similar scheme across Scotland. This could then deliver an additional £200million per year into the Scottish economy by supporting the Scottish Government to help insulate homes, and provide low carbon heating systems, and create new jobs in the green energy sector.

The fund is set to run until the end of March 2023, continuing to support the most vulnerable in East Lothian over the winter period. 

Image (L to R): Keith MacDonald (Financial Inclusion Team Leader, East Lothian Council), Paul McLennan MSP (SNP MSP for East Lothian), Anouska Woods (Community Coordinator at BeGreen Dunbar), Norman Hampshire (East Lothian Council Leader), Robb Lynch (Senior Operations Manager for the Aikengall wind farm array). 

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