DEPHER, the Lancashire not-for-profit initiative run by gas engineer James Anderson, hit the headlines last year after his work offering free plumbing and heating repairs to the elderly and disabled went viral on social media.
One year on, Registered Gas Engineer caught up with James again to find out what has changed for DEPHER since we spoke to him then, and how he is helping his local community to navigate the Coronavirus pandemic.
DEPHER was struggling financially to keep its doors open early in 2019, but more than £130,000 in public donations was raised when the initiative went viral, after the grateful family member of someone DEPHER had helped posted the story on social media. Thanks to this funding, the past 12 months has seen DEPHER transformed and it is now able to help those in need more than ever before.
Since April 2019, DEPHER has installed around 35 free boilers for those in need, including one for a woman whose husband passed away unexpectedly last year, leaving behind a young family.
While James has continued to carry out between five and seven free plumbing and heating repairs each day, the coronavirus outbreak has seen him expand DEPHER even further. The organisation has set up a permanent food bank, using donations and purchased food to distribute between seven and 10 food parcels every day to elderly people, those with disabilities, low-income families, NHS staff and key workers.
DEPHER is also giving £10 top-ups of electricity and gas to struggling low-income and single-parent families, so they can keep their utilities going until they get paid.
James says: “We are giving £40 a week to people who are struggling to support their families through the pandemic. There are families in South Wales, Scotland, Manchester and Lancashire that we’re supporting, because they’ve got children, they’re all self-employed and they can’t get help from anybody. Once the pandemic is over and they can get back on their feet, that will stop.”
With the desperate need for PPE across the country in the headlines almost every day, DEPHER is also doing its bit to support the NHS.
“We’ve spent £10,500 so far on PPE, and then donated that to local care homes and NHS staff at the Blackburn and Burnley hospital, including surgery staff, carers and the ante-natal wards,” James explains. “They don’t pay for it: we buy it and give it away because we believe that life is more important than money.”
Manufacturers in the plumbing and heating industry have played their part in helping DEPHER expand. Glow-worm donated 12 boilers in September 2019, all of which have now been fitted, while other manufacturers including Baxi have also donated. Local companies in Burnley, Lancashire, have given plastic fittings to help with the repairs.
Right now James is concentrating on doing everything he can to help his local community through the pandemic, but his long-term dream is still to turn DEPHER into a national initiative, to help vulnerable and low-income families throughout the UK.
“There are so many people out there who need help,” he says. “I’ve had messages from people saying that I’ve saved their life, or their auntie’s life. When you get those messages, it makes you realise that there’s a major problem out there that needs to be addressed, right across the country.”