SCORES of elderly people spent quarter of an hour shivering in the rain outside St Helens Town Hall when a fire alarm interrupted a conference on affordable warmth.
They were evacuated from the Assembly Room after an alarm was activated in the kitchen where a hot pot treat was being prepared for the gathering.
About 200 people were given helpful advice on keeping warm and healthy this winter and received handy blankets and survival packs from Age UK Mid Mersey.
Mayor, Cllr Andy Bowden opened the meeting and told the audience: “Ever increasing fuel bills add to the difficulty of making ends meet. We are here to highlight solutions available locally.”
St Helens North MP Dave Watts said renewable energy plans were a key to the future.
“If we get it right we can lower bills, reduce carbon emmissions and develope new jobs and industries.”
Martin Gerrelli from Caribou said his organisation were working to alleviate fuel poverty.
“Energy prices have risen by 90 per cent in the last 10 years and we’re facing another 150 per cent rise in the next 10 years. We need to look at the ways of reducing the energy demands of our homes and do the very best to insulate them. If you turn your thermostat down by one degree you save 10 per cent of your heating bill.
“We need to make sure energy we produce reaches our homes. For every kilowatt generated in a power station only 400 watts make it to the house the rest is lost down the wires.”
Martin Roughley brought a few gasps from the audience when he told how he lived in a council house in Billinge in the winter of 1963 and his gold fish froze.
“Fuel poverty is going to increase,” he warned. “As bills rise it’s a choice of heating homes or eating food. Fuel poverty is any household that spends more than 10 per cent of its income on fuel.”
Director of Public Health Liz Gaulton told the audience more people were dying in winter in St Helens compared to the national average and said causes of death were heart disease, circulatory, respiratory and through ‘flu and pneumonia.
“We are working to identify the most vulnerable people so we can support them,” she said.
Micheal Egan of St Helens CAB explained how the Bureau had set-up a fuel debt advice service and had helped a client clear a gas and electricity debt of £5,000.
“A single person on job seekers’ allowance of £71.70p can easily spend £20 per week on fuel,” he said.
Age UK senior campaigns officer Alice Woudhuysen explained: “As we get older we get much more vulnerable to cold. Not everyone realises when they are cold, they can’t feel it. Last winter 31,100 people died in England and Wales and nine our of 10 were aged 65 or over. People should not be dying from the weather in this country.
“Nine million homes could be improved in the next 15 years to cut energy bills by £400 annually on average, just by the use of carbon tax the Government has already got.”
*More winter survival packs containing a calendar, emergency blanket, thermal mug and a LED torch, will be distributed (between 10.30am and 12.30pm) through local libraries on February 6 at Peter Street, Feb 7 Newton-le-Willows, Feb 11 Moss Bank, Feb 12 Thatto Heath, Feb 13 Rainhill, Feb 14 Billinge, Feb 18 Chester Lane, Feb 19 Central, Feb 20 Rainford (and Garswood between 2pm and 4pm), Feb 21 Eccleston.