Get ready for winter so you are not left out in the cold

An initiative has been launched where volunteers become ‘snowfriends’, and visit the homes of those most vulnerable to ensure that they are okay and to offer them assistance throughout the bad weather.

This campaign has come about after the big freeze of 2010 and the ensuing problems, including those brought about by freezing temperatures last winter, record levels of claims on property insurance This campaign is being backed by local resilience forums, Water UK, Government departments and the voluntary sector.

Memories are still fresh regarding the problems that were caused by the last years freezing winter, and how many communities and individual people were affected. So the government departments, the voluntary sector and industry bodies have all joined forces to urge everyone to be prepared and Get Ready For Winter.

The campaign was launched by Anne McIntosh, who is also the chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Water Group. She said that the disruption caused by last winter’s extreme weather conditions has highlighted the need for a campaign that was co-ordinated to foster a greater resilience was necessary,

She added that by encouraging businesses, home owners and organisations to protect their homes, health and the vulnerable by following practical and simple advice was clearly the way to go.

“The freezing temperatures caused severe hardship to many people and communities,” said Miss McIntosh. “In some ways we were not prepared – both individually and collectively – for the severity of the weather. The government and other agencies have taken action to ensure our infrastructure, particularly transport, is better prepared this winter.

“We must become more resilient to these extremes of climate which, with climate change, appear to be becoming more frequent.”

Travel arrangements, vehicle checks, home protection, heating, the health and wellbeing of relatives and the elderly, are all areas covered by the Get Ready for Winter campaign.

Referring to the fact that the onset of winter will be heralded by the clocks going back on Sunday, Miss McIntosh said people might like to “use the extra hour to Get Ready for Winter”. She announced that as part of the initiative a Get Ready for Winter page had been set up on the DirectGov website to offer simple tips and advice. It links to other web sites providing more information.

“It’s worth checking it out,” said Miss McIntosh. “For example, should you have a flu jab? Is your home vulnerable in some way?

Jean Spencer, Regulation Director for Anglian Water, said the freezing temperatures last winter caused a record increase in burst pipes across the UK – both in water company networks and homes.

“The biggest increase in bursts was in properties,” Mrs Spencer said.” Thousands of homes were flooded by burst pipes. It ruined the Christmas/New Year period for many people.”

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has revealed that during December its members dealt with £900 million in property damage claims. This was the highest pay out yet made for damage caused by a bout of freezing weather and heavy snow in the UK. December was the coldest since records began in 1910.*

Of the property claims, 103,000 were for burst pipe damage, totalling £680 million.

“So beware of the hidden danger in your loft,” said Mrs Spencer. “A collapsed ceiling or coming home to water running down the stairs is a nightmare and can be a costly winter experience.”

Mrs Spencer said while UK water companies have taken particular care to make sure they are fully prepared for the possibility of another sever winter, “we are keen to ensure our customers are made aware of the dangers now and know how to take preventative action. We also want to make sure they get the right sort of help when they face a problem. This is why we have created a special Get Ready for Winter page on our websites offering advice. We hope our customers will check it out and the DirectGov site.”

Miss McIntosh said she was “delighted and much encouraged” that so many government departments were actively promoting the Get Ready for Winter campaign – others will join in as we enter winter – together with Water UK, the Local Resilience Forums and, from the voluntary sector, the British Red Cross, WRVS, St John Ambulance and Salvation Army. They are being joined by a host of other organisations from regulators to companies.*

Simon Lewis, Head of UK Emergency Planning and Response for the Red Cross, said emergency response teams battled through the snow to provide life-saving treatment to critically ill patients, responded to emergency 999 calls, delivered much needed medicine and medical equipment, and transported patients and vital NHS personnel.

“Although we can never fully protect ourselves against extremes of weather, being prepared makes a vital difference, minimising the disruption caused to families and communities and even saving lives,” said Mr Lewis.

“That is why we are backing the ‘Get Ready for Winter’ initiative and urging everyone to take steps that will help to prepare them for the disruption caused by snow or plummeting temperatures.”

Volunteers also became ‘snow friends’, visiting the homes of vulnerable people to ensure they were ok and to offer extra help during the bad weather.

“This imaginative yet simple initiative will only succeed if people respond to the messages,” said Miss McIntosh. “All the information in the world won’t help if it’s just floating around in the ether; so we are getting the messages out in as many ways as we can – from the grass roots involvement of volunteers to press conferences like this one.”

The threat posed by unprotected water pipes was graphically illustrated at the Press Conference by eco-engineer and television personality Dick Strawbridge who froze a pipe so it burst and then thawed it out to demonstrate how they can flood a home, business or other property. Film of the demonstration will be uploaded onto Water UK and water company websites.