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Energy Support Unit team - Stewart Wilson (Muirneag Consulting), Iain Dan Morrison (Muirneag Consulting) and Kenny Maclean (ESU Technician). By SandiePhotos

More than £210,000 has been paid out by Point and Sandwick’s Energy Support Unit (ESU) which is now featured in a national database set up to tackle poverty, sharing how their work is making a difference to householders in the Western Isles.

This has been created by SPIRU, the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit is an interdisciplinary research group based at Glasgow Caledonian University which is working to investigate and develop effective responses to poverty and inequality. 

With the support of community projects around the country, the group is developing a free-to-use online resource to raise awareness and share practice about local initiatives that aim to tackle poverty locally. 

The Energy Support Unit based in Point and Sandwick is  designed to support those most vulnerable to the fuel hikes which have dominated recent years. Managed by Muirneag Consulting and funded by community wind farm Point and Sandwick Trust (PST), the scheme includes direct cash support in the form of payments to fuel accounts via the PST Fuel Hardship Fund, signposting householders to further support available and help navigating fuel payment systems.

The scheme has helped pensioners, single adults and families to assess the impact rising fuel costs has had on their bills and since opening its doors in December 2022, has given fuel grants of £210,000 to eligible households.

Stewart Wilson, of Muirneag Consulting said, “Local networking with the NHS and the Poverty Action Group here in Lewis bought the SPIRU project to our attention and we thought the ESU was a really good fit with their aims.  Their public database is designed to help policymakers, service users and practitioners view peer-reviewed, community-based schemes that are working to alleviate poverty in a local setting, something we are very keen to support. 

"The main driver for the set-up of the ESU is to address the high levels of fuel poverty in the Western Isles, with a focus on the villages in the Point and Sandwick area. Sharing our work with the SPIRU database gives us an opportunity to share best practise and highlight what is working with our scheme.”

Professor John McKendrick, Co-Director of the Scottish Poverty and Information Unit said, “The Directory ensures that lessons learned in locally delivered anti-poverty initiatives are not lost but are available to inform new local projects. We know that the eradication of poverty cannot be achieved by local action alone. We also know that what works in one community, might not necessarily work in others.  However, we believe that local action can be impactful."

In April 2023, Energy Action Scotland estimated nearly 4 in 10 households in Scotland to be in fuel poverty.  This figure is higher in the Western Isles where fuel poverty is a complex problem; houses which are still largely energy inefficient, modest average salaries and the cost-of-living crisis and fuel price increases.