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Meet the plumber raising money to heat people’s homes for free

‘That’s the thing about the British people – the majority who’ve got nothing or very little, will give you more than what they have’

As James Anderson sat at his desk, a woman walked in with a bag of pound coins and 50 pence pieces. She’d been saving them for a holiday, but Covid meant she wouldn’t be able to get away. Instead, she wanted the change she’d scrimped and saved to go towards a family in need.

“I would rather a family wake up in the morning and eat something in the morning, than me sit there with a bag of money and wake up on holiday one day” she told Anderson. “That might be the last meal for that parent – I couldn’t live with myself.” 

Anderson, a plumber, runs Depher – a social enterprise based in Burnley providing heating and plumbing services to those in need, as well as sending money to families for energy bills and food shops. Anderson has now helped 31,000 families across the UK with Depher.

The woman with the bags was an unusual donation – Anderson is more used to money flowing in online. In four years, Depher has raised over £460,000 to fund its operations.

Donations make up 60 per cent of Depher’s funding. He’s managed to attract £25,000 from Hugh Grant – but the smaller donations mean the most.

“That’s the thing about the British people – the majority who’ve got nothing or very little, will give you more than what they have,” he told The Big Issue.

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Buffeted by the effects of the pandemic and the ramping up of the cost of living crisis, Brits are increasingly turning to fundraising sites like GoFundMe to pay for basics.

In the absence of serious government support, and as even Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis admits he’s “out of tools” to help people cope, the avenues for survival are growing ever narrower. 

The number of campaigns on Gofundme mentioning “bills” or “heating” increased by 77 per cent, when comparing January-March 2022 to the same period in 2019, according to the site.

A trawl through the site’s pages shows the need: families asking for help with nursery fees while a parent lies in hospital; unemployed people trying to cover their bills; and an appeal for money to pay off rent arrears and keep a home.

Anderson admits the government should be helping, but believes strongly he’d have a place even if they did. To illustrate his point, he has another anecdote.

When a lady phoned the office one day, sounding despondent, Anderson could tell something wasn’t right. So he jumped in his van to drive the 50 miles to Preston, and discovered the woman was suicidal.

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“This is a woman who paid taxes and everything else all her life, who supported the community she comes from, who was left by the people she supported to suffer on her own,” Anderson recalled.

Anderson offered help, and the woman is now safe and happy. It was a response that, he believes, comes from having people willing to help each other on an individual scale.

“That’s the problem with this country. A lot of problems are there, hidden away from society,” he said.

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