As worries about the rising cost of food, energy and mortgages impact on people’s wellbeing, organisations are coming together in solidarity with residents, directing them to advice on benefits, energy rebates, warm home grants and much more.
Community groups from across Merton have joined events organised by the council to listen to people’s concerns and offer advice. Groups taking part range from local Citizens Advice and Sustainable Merton to South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust and the Libraries Wellbeing service. Around 150 people came along to a recent session at Colliers Wood Library, with feedback indicating they found it incredibly useful.
Today I’ve spoken almost non-stop to people, signing them up for us to come and look at their energy use.”
What is concerning residents now?
Some of the organisations involved explained what is concerning people right now. According to Kamila Dyczko from support group Polish Family Association: “There is a fear that they will have to choose to pay for food or bills.”
Springfield Advice and Law Centre, advises about issues including benefits and debt, particularly to people experiencing mental health issues. Melanie Gonga from the centre handed out more than 100 advice leaflets and agreed that rising bills is a major worry. “Managing these bills, together with the rising cost of food, was not just a concern for those on benefit-level incomes, but also for those who were working, as well as older people on pensions and even those who owned their homes,” she said.
People who may not have much support are keen to just have a friendly chat.
Grace Meikle, from Thinking Works, a not-for-profit which helps low-income households save energy said: “Today I’ve spoken almost non-stop to people, signing them up for us to come and look at their energy use and see what we can do to help them save money.”
Aside from the cost of living, people have other worries including social isolation and mental wellbeing. According to Jen Goddard of Age UK Merton: “People were keen to understand if they were accessing all the financial support available to them – but we also had lots of interest in the activities and services run by Age UK Merton and Wimbledon Guild – people who may not have much support are keen to just have a friendly chat.”
What advice do groups have for residents?
Tak, Age UK Merton: Give Merton Community Hub a call on 020 8066 4086. It is there to connect people to the support they need, such as emergency food provision, and is a good first port of call to support you to get to the right help.
Kamila, Polish Family Association: Contact your local advice services. There might be financial help available that you are not aware of – you can email us at the Polish Family Association – [email protected] for advice.
Grace, Thinking Works: We provide crisis support by phone including fuel vouchers for people who have had their gas or electricity cut off. We can also help some people get discounts on their water bills – which most people don’t know. If you earn less than £20k you might be eligible.
Melanie, Springfield Advice and Law Centre: One simple, but practical, measure is to visit your local “warm spaces” – libraries, community centres, food banks, local authority venues or even coffee shops – places where you might stay a while and spend very little, but get out of the house, avoiding isolation and minimising your household energy bills.
Find out more
Merton Council’s website has details of many sources of advice on debt, help with food and fuel costs, energy efficiency and wellbeing support, as well as future cost of living events. There are also details of other ways the council is helping people who are struggling this winter.
Merton’s seven public libraries have been designated as ‘warm spaces’ where residents can keep warm while accessing information on the cost of living. The council is looking to extend library opening hours over the winter and is calling out to other community groups, offering their own warm spaces, in order to promote these to residents.