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Blog Post 29 July 2021

Green recovery after a time of challenge

Last year, Energy Saving Trust got on with the job, delivering programmes and adapting services for people affected by Covid-19. And we learned a few things along the way.

Despite its grave challenges in 2020-21, the pandemic generated fresh possibilities for a greener recovery. It also presented creative opportunities to do new things for existing clients.

We managed the Department for Transport’s innovative Fix Your Bike scheme. Launched in July, the £50 repair voucher scheme set out to boost active travel by offering a sustainable alternative to public transport. The scheme’s simple message – dig that old bike out of the shed and get it on the road – proved irresistible, with take-up exceeding all expectations. To date, some 412,000 vouchers have been issued.

Maria McLean, senior project manager, said: “At the time, the guidance had to be – don’t use your car, but don’t catch a bus. Since then, the messaging has moved away from commuting to promote cycling as a family-focused active travel option.”

Adds group head of transport Tim Anderson: “The key thing was to mobilise very rapidly with delivery partner Solstice. In addition to our consumers, we interacted with over 2,500 bike shops. For us, it was a terrific opportunity to reach large numbers of stakeholders with our active travel message.”

In Scotland, government policy focused on a campaign of reassurance to prevent a shift away from public transport to private cars. Launched in October and delivered by Energy Saving Trust in partnership with National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, Transport Scotland’s public transport retrofit fund set out to demonstrate that these modes of travel were safe to use.

Ellie Grebenik, senior programme manager, said: “We wanted to avoid a two-tier outcome where people who can afford a car chose that over public transport while others without that choice felt forced to use what they might see as an unsafe option.”

Adds project manager Kalina Stormonth-Darling: “Can you do something and can you do it now? That was the ask. We set up the scheme in record time, innovating in areas from building a team to exploring technologies that make transport environments safer. I’m proud of what we achieved.”

With £5m available, the retrofit scheme targeted taxis, private hire vehicles, buses, coaches, trams, metros, ferries and light aircraft. The largest applicant was Strathclyde Partnership for Transport – here the scheme funded metro sanitiser interventions to a total value of £75,000.

“An important spin-off for us,” says Ellie, “was upgrading the travel advice we gave through Home Energy Scotland in the light of shifting government guidelines. We became a key point of call for people looking to find out what they could and couldn’t do in terms of travel during the pandemic.”

Getting funds to people affected by Covid-19

Energy Saving Trust manages Ofgem’s Energy Industry Voluntary Redress Scheme. Energy companies in breach of rules can choose to make financial reparation by paying into a funding pot which we then manage. Charities apply to access these funds for projects that support particularly vulnerable consumers.

In 2020-21, Ofgem asked us to ringfence a special Covid-19 Crisis Fund within the Redress scheme and target consumers struggling to pay energy bills during the pandemic. Anthony Kyriakides, head of renewables, said: “We swiftly launched the new crisis fund and distributed £10m to charities so they could provide emergency fuel vouchers, helping vulnerable people keep their homes warm and the lights on.”

Energy Saving Trust also runs loan schemes on behalf of the Scottish Government include the tenant and landlord hardship schemes for tenants struggling to pay the rent and landlords affected by rent arrears. These schemes continued to run in 2021.

How did the pandemic affect the delivery of services and funds at Energy Saving Trust? “We were quick out of the blocks when Covid-19 hit,” says head of service delivery Matt Fraser. “As we took our services online, our priority was to make the customer journey as smooth as possible.”

Service delivery is one of the few departments that takes calls from the public. Says Matt: “A large part of my focus has been on the wellbeing of the team in the face of an uptick in calls from distressed customers. Across the company, support for each other is at new levels, which feeds into better quality support for our customers.”

Key partners delivering services on the ground

Energy Saving Trust delivers frontline services in partnership with Warmworks, managing agent for the Scottish Government’s national fuel poverty reduction scheme, Warmer Homes Scotland. When Covid-19 struck, the priority was to make support available on an individualised basis.

Ross Armstrong, Warmworks managing director, said: “People in fuel poverty aren’t a homogenous group. Everyone has a different appetite for risk – for letting others into their home, say. We always view these customers as individuals, but that idea took on more meaning during the pandemic.”

In Scotland as elsewhere, Covid-19 restrictions happened in phases. During the first lockdown, when the weather was mild, Warmworks delivered emergency help on the doorstep in the form of plug-in heaters. But as winter approached, the need to change tack became obvious to Ross.

“We made it clear to government there had to be an element of service in the home. We introduced a raft of extra measures to keep everyone safe, and set up our own dedicated YouTube channel to explain these to householders in a reassuring way. From a brand point of view, it’s vital we protect our reputation for working safely while looking after vulnerable consumers.”

In Wales, Energy Saving Trust works with Arbed am Byth to deliver services funded by the Welsh Government to communities at risk of fuel poverty. “Our priority with Covid-19,” says Arbed managing director Crispin Jones, “was to keep people safe – not just in the office, but in people’s homes too.”

Arbed used government guidelines on working safely to draw up an action plan. But with a need to furlough staff for seven weeks, during which work stopped, support numbers dropped. “We want,” says Crispin, “to get back up to around 2,000 home visits annually as soon as possible.”

What are the lessons of a challenging year? Says Crispin: “We’ve done our risk assessments. Our systems have been modified in ways we plan to retain. So, today we have stronger controls.”

These controls extend to a phone app which tracks Covid-19 status for Arbed and its entire supply chain. “We need to feel totally confident about who’s representing us at any given moment,” says Crispin. “Working with vulnerable consumers, we’ve got to show our systems are beyond robust.”

Last updated: 29 July 2021