On the day Theresa May became Prime Minister, MPs from the Shetland Islands down to the tip of Cornwall committed to running Fuelling Connections in their constituencies. Fuelling Connections is a community-led campaign which streamlines the way support reaches households struggling to pay energy and food bills.

It may seem strange that on a day of such momentous parliamentary change, MPs should spare the time to commit to a community-based constituency scheme. Perhaps though, they are operating with significant foresight. It seems certain over the coming months that due to fluctuations in sterling fuel and food prices will rise. These increases will most hit those on low incomes who spend proportionally more of their money on life essentials.

As part of a process of rebuilding trust and healing divisions that increasingly exist in our society MPs need to play an active role in directly helping those most in need. Fuelling Connections is a small part of this process. It gives MPs an opportunity to use their influence to support vulnerable households and create stronger local communities.

The research

Fuelling Connections was created from observational research undertaken by Hubbub in three constituencies which discovered that help is not reaching those households most in need. Often these households are in private rented accommodation and have faced major life changes such as divorce, job loss or illness which have drastically changed their personal circumstances. Many are finding it hard to cope financially with the change feeling isolated and vulnerable.

Identifying and reaching these households is difficult. They can be off the radar for support agencies, they often lack confidence to seek out help and they can be disconnected from their local community. Surprisingly as a result many prioritise paying to stay on-line ahead of paying for food and energy bills. This virtual connection, usually through Facebook, is their connection to the wider world. This insight was critical in the way we developed Fuelling Connections.

We also discovered a significant lack of collaboration between support agencies. Each of them begin from a different start point for providing local help – it could be from a health agenda, social need, housing, etc. This lack of collaboration makes it incredibly difficult for households to know who to turn to. This problem is exacerbated if the household lacks confidence and skills.

Fuelling Connections as an approach

Fuelling Connections is a fresh approach aiming to overcome the challenges our research identified. It is led by an MP in their constituency. These MPs bring together local agencies whose role it is to help people struggling to pay fuel bills. These groups agree a local lead body whom Hubbub pays to co-ordinate local information ensuring it is brought together in a coherent form that is accessible and understandable for local people.

A local Facebook group is created and a recruitment strategy put in place to encourage people struggling with bills to join. This recruitment includes carefully targeted adverts, on-street recruiters and promotion through local voluntary agencies.

People who join the group receive support at three levels. Hubbub posts national news ranging from forthcoming changes in legislation, warnings of cold snaps, advice on national grants available and top tips. Local agencies tell people what support is available locally and what community activities are taking place. Finally people receive ideas and help from peers within the community.

Crucially the Facebook Group has no organisational branding and the posts use a variety of content including videos all designed to be relevant and accessible to people.

In the first three trials in Tower Hamlets, Don Valley and Truro and Falmouth, over 1,300 households have participated and evidence suggests that they are getting real value and support from the scheme – including an increased number of referrals to support agencies.

What happens next

The process needs further improvement particularly on evaluation methodology, the quality of national information provided and the recruitment process. However, the pilot results are immensely encouraging suggesting there is a huge opportunity to spread this highly cost-effectiveness process throughout the country.

The parliamentary event led by Sarah Newton MP and Jim Fitzpatrick MP sought to test whether there was a wider appetite to run Fuelling Connections. We distributed a simple ‘How to Guide’ sharing our process and encouraging others to replicate the campaign in their areas. We put out a call for MPs to support the campaign in their locality. We were overwhelmed by the immediate response. At the event itself every Cornish MP committed to join the scheme as well as MPs from Scotland and Yorkshire.

We believe that Fuelling Connections could be an important piece of the jigsaw in helping people out of fuel poverty and we will let you know how it evolves over the coming months.

If you would like to collaborate with Fuelling Connections, please get in touch.