Last year we visited households across England struggling to make ends meet. For many it was literally a case of heat or eat. Time and again we heard where illness, divorce or job loss had resulted in a massive change in personal circumstances making it incredibly hard to pay everyday bills. Financial difficulties were frequently accompanied by wider problems including depression and social isolation.For many being online was their only connection with the wider world. Maintaining their internet connection was frequently placed high on the list of priorities for payment as without it there would be no interaction with other people.

We found that financial support is not reaching those most in need. People struggling to pay bills were reluctant to call energy company helplines or were worried about the stigma of visiting Food Banks.

On a more positive note we met people with fantastic coping strategies. One person knew exactly how much they spent on every meal and had created an extraordinarily elaborated system of batch cooking meals ensuring he got maximum value from the energy used for cooking. The insight we gained helped create ‘Fuelling Connections’ which is being tested in three contrasting parts of England this winter. The approach is simple. We are using Facebook as the meeting point where local people can share ideas, provide mutual support and connect with others facing similar life challenges to their own.

Local trained co-ordinators will support the Facebook groups ensuring that all resources available from local agencies reach members in a way that is easy to understand and follow. We will work with the co-ordinators providing national information and ensuring that the language is kept simple and clear.

The use of Facebook has many advantages. The sophistication of the platform means people are able to retain privacy. We can push out messages at important moments – for example warning if a cold snap is expected. The maps function enables people to discover what support is available in their immediate vicinity and allows for sophisticated searches.

Most importantly Facebook is used and understood by a large section of the population meaning that, if successful, the pilot schemes can be expand quickly and cost effectively.

We understandsthat addressing fuel and food poverty requires addressing deep-seated structural and social issues such as the quality of the UK’s housing stock. But we also know that more needs to be done to ensure the help that is available reaches those most in need and that overcoming social isolation will help people to better cope. This winter we will discover whether Fuelling Connections can address these dual challenges.