Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Axewood Co-operative log bank helps ease fuel poverty

The latest Countryfile episode on BBC One took us to Devon: 

Matt Baker and Margherita Taylor are in a very snowy Devon.  

Margherita meets the people from the Axewood Co-operative, a group who chop down wood and give it away. Margherita meets some of the beneficiaries of this log bank and finds out how this initiative is helping ease fuel poverty locally. 

BBC iPlayer - Countryfile - Devon

The log bank was set up in June last year:
Launch of the East Devon Log Bank

And it was formally launched by County Cllr Claire Wright:
East Devon winter fuel log bank launches to help people struggling to afford heating bills - Claire Wright

The Guardian also followed the story at the time: 

Devon 'log bank' set up to help those struggling with fuel poverty

Foresters cooperative forging links with food banks and charities to reach those in need

Steven Morris

Sun 10 Jun 2018
According to the latest government figures, 11% of households in urban areas of England are fuel poor. The figure rises to 14% for rural areas. 

A band of volunteer foresters working from a base tucked away in a steep West Country valley is pioneering a “log bank” scheme designed to help struggling families and individuals out of fuel poverty.

Inspired by the food bank system that has become a feature of austerity Britain, the idea is that people in Devon who are unable to afford to heat their homes will be supplied with free logs for open fires and burners.

For the last eight years members of the Axewoods Co-operative – the name is a play on the River Axe as well as the cutting tool – have managed woodland in east Devon without pay in exchange for the firewood produced as they work.

The scheme has been so successful that they found they were getting more wood than they were able to use themselves and decided to launch the log bank. East Devon district council has provided the group with a plot of land at its Knapp Copse nature reserve to season the wood and store equipment.

Axewoods is now forging links with food banks, charities and advice centres to find people who would benefit from a supply of logs.

Its chairman, Alan Dyer, said members hoped their scheme, which they believe to be the first of its kind, could help hundreds of people heat and power their homes.

“It’s not aimed at people who might turn up in their Range Rover, load up and say: ‘Thanks very much for the free logs,’” Dyer said. “Fuel poverty is a real problem in rural areas. In the south-west where wages are low and costs are high ordinary people are struggling to keep themselves warm. If they have access to a log burner or open fire, the wood we provide could make all the difference.”

FacebookTwitterPinterest Knapp copse nature reserve in Devon where the Axelwoods Co-operative operates. Photograph: East Devon district council

Fuel poverty is defined as a household living on a low income in a home that cannot be kept warm at reasonable cost without bringing residual income below the poverty threshold.

According to the latest government figures 11% of households in urban areas of England are fuel poor. In rural villages, hamlets and isolated dwellings the figure rises to 14%. In 2015 – the most recent year for which figures are available - the average fuel poverty gap for fuel poor households in rural villages, hamlets and isolated dwellings was £726.

Research by National Energy Action and the Campaign to Protect Rural England shows that rural areas are five years behind urban areas in terms of energy efficiency of homes and that people were paying almost 55% more to fuel their home as a result.

Axewoods is very much a product of austerity Britain. Ten years ago it became clear that many landowners, both private and public sector, were not prepared to spend money on managing woodland because bringing in commercial contractors was so expensive.

In east Devon people with an interest in sylvan areas and forestry work formed the cooperative and offered to manage woodlands in exchange for logs for their own use.

“The landowners have their woods managed and we get exercise and free wood,” said Dyer. “We have retired people, youngsters, unemployed, business people, coastguards come along. It’s an eclectic mix, which is half the fun.”

A new member flagged up that he had come across people burning rubbish in stoves – and often damaging them – because they could not afford good quality wood. The cooperative decided to try to find a way of getting its surfeit of logs to such people.

The environment secretary Michael Gove’s calls for curbs on wood burners and coal fires to reduce emissions are dismissed by Dyer as a “stupid soundbite”. He agreed people burning logs could be a problem in London, but not in the places such as Devon.

Nathan Robinson, a local authority nature reserves ranger who works with the cooperative, said: “In many rural areas of the district, wood fuel provides one of only a few viable options for how to heat your home. A project such as this which aims to supply firewood from sustainably managed sources to those in need is surely a good thing. It’s a win-win as I see it. Warm homes, well managed woods.”

Claire Wright, the Devon county councillor for Otter Valley, called the log bank a fantastic project. She said: “Some people genuinely do have to make a choice between eating and heating their house. I know not everyone has a log burner or open fire but for those who do then this service could be a bit of a lifeline.”

Devon 'log bank' set up to help those struggling with fuel poverty | Society | The Guardian

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