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East London church offers practical help to tackle fuel poverty

13 March 2020

Christian aid

The Rt Revd Lord Williams, who chairs Christian Aid, leads prayers for the climate, in Parliament Square, on Wednesday

The Rt Revd Lord Williams, who chairs Christian Aid, leads prayers for the climate, in Parliament Square, on Wednesday

A CHURCH in London hopes to tackle fuel poverty while also re­­ducing greenhouse-gas emissions, in a scheme to help churchgoers to switch energy suppliers more easily.

The Switch Day project — the idea of a team from St John’s, Hoxton, in east London — involves volunteers with laptops setting up a workshop after Sunday services to simplify the process of moving from a costly energy tariff to a cheaper and greener one with selected firms.

St John’s has now held two such events, helping 13 households to save hundreds of pounds on their bills and preventing an estimated 21 tonnes of carbon entering the atmo­sphere each year.

Now, the organisers are hosting training days to help others to hold their own Switch Days.

The Vicar of St John’s, the Revd Graham Hunter, said that many in his inner-city congregation were struggling with expensive gas and electricity contracts from the Big Six energy suppliers. After being drawn in by cheap introductory offers, they then experienced huge price in­­­creases after the first year, but were unsure how to leave.

One of the leaders of the Switch Day campaign, Tash Jesson, who worships at St John’s, said: “Most people that we spoke to said that they knew they were getting ripped off, and they knew they were paying more than they could. But the switch­­ing process was really com­plicated for them: there were numer­ous barriers making switching really tough for some people to do.”

Another volunteer, Chris Mitchell, said that the team had worked with Citizens UK com­munity organisers and researchers from the London campus of Lough­borough Univer­sity.

Mr Hunter has also switched the church’s energy supply to one of the renewable-only firms, which saved the church about £7000 a year on top of cutting its share of emissions. A referral scheme meant that, for every member of the congregation who decided to go with the same firm, St John’s was given £50.

“We’re showing people that didn’t think they could act on climate change . . . [that] actually they can, and it is also possible that it can benefit them,” Mr Mitchell said.

Those who had been persuaded to take pre-payment meters were particularly receptive to the Switch Days, Ms Jesson noted. “People at our church know us, and know we’re not trying to swindle them or any­­thing and they will see us next week at church if anything goes wrong.” This was the power of the Switch Day model, she suggested

The St John’s team have teamed up with Citizens UK’s Fair Energy Campaign to train other community groups to run their own Switch Days.

Six churches, a mosque, and students at Loughborough Univers­ity London plan to hold Switch Days this Lent, with a collective target of saving £20,000 for families.

For information on running a Switch Day, email Mr Mitchell at chris.mitchell.94@gmail.com.

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