Our coldest neighbourhoods
The coldest neighbourhoods aren’t only the ones most likely to be covered in snow and ice this winter. They’re the streets where people’s homes are most poorly insulated. Homes in these areas are hardest to heat due to low energy efficiency ratings, which makes energy use and bills higher than average, and where most people are living on lower than average incomes.
Our thermal images show the glow of people keeping warm in their homes
We commissioned photojournalist Grey Hutton to visit some of the coldest neighbourhoods and meet individuals and families who are among the millions of people concerned about this winter due to the spiralling cost of living.
His thermal camera captured vivid images of people in their homes showing heat leaking from poorly insulated walls and the deep cold of seeping damp, but also the glow from electric fires, hot water bottles and cups of tea used to keep warm. People shared stories of sky-high bills, stories of the effect of the cold on their health, and stories of strength as communities come together to support each other. They can see the solutions that are needed - insulation, emergency support for those most at risk, and a move to renewable energy.
We had already identified 9,000 energy crisis hotspots, areas with higher than average energy use and below-average incomes. Then we looked at the energy efficiency of houses using their Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) and the proportion of houses with the lowest EPC levels in each neighbourhood.
To further highlight the people and communities most impacted by the energy crisis, additional information has been added, including the proportion of people living in the neighbourhoods that are over 65, under 18, under 12 and who are people of colour, along with the number of private renters, social renters and homeowners.
Our 1,000 coldest neighbourhoods show where there are lots of homes that are the hardest to heat, with little insulation, resulting in high bills for people on low incomes.
We know that these solutions will come from people coming together. United for Warm Homes, a campaign powered by Friends of the Earth, is a growing alliance of community groups and individuals campaigning for solutions that will bring down energy bills for good and cut the harmful emissions from the fossil fuels that heat our homes.
Insulation creates warmer and healthier homes
Rhyl sits on the North Wales coast, with a sandy beach looking out to the Irish Sea. It includes the second coldest neighbourhood in Wales. Some areas of Rhyl have almost a third of residents over the age of 65, like Audrey, who’s in her 70s and lives alone. She’s retired and although she does get some government grants, her rising heating bills have left her living in just one room.
“I live upstairs because I prefer to keep to one room in the winter, especially at my age…” she says sitting close to one electric radiator. “I’ve got no circulation in my feet because of my heart... so I have to keep warm.”
Audrey has poor circulation caused by a heart condition, people with health conditions like these are advised by the World Health Organisation to heat their homes to a minimum of 20°C, but that costs money. “When I’ve got the radiator on its own its lovely and warm, and it’s about £20 a night when you put it on.”
Thomas volunteers for Foryd Community Centre in Rhyl, where he helps people with budgeting. He feels sad about how people are now just accepting not heating their homes. When he asks them about gas bills “they’ve gone ‘well that’s just not something I factor into my life, I don’t have the boiler on, I don’t have the heating on,’ as if it’s normal… they shouldn’t be accepting that as the new normal.”
But he can see a solution. “If houses were insulated better that would make a significant difference.”
We have some of the least insulated homes in Europe. In Wales, we’re urging the Welsh government to urgently roll out its Warm Homes programme, prioritising the most in-need households and neighbourhoods for insulation.
The oil and gas companies are making billions in profit. A proper windfall tax could fund free insulation which would really make a difference to people's homes and their bills.
Supporting landlords means their tenants will benefit
Halifax has areas of young families, where almost a third of the community are children under 18. And almost a third of people here live in privately rented homes like Lee, his partner and their two young children. They're waiting for their landlord for repairs.
“My window got cracked… we did tell the landlord and still to this day it’s not been repaired so you can just imagine how cold my house is going to be at the moment.”
“I always have to have my curtains shut, just to keep the coldness from getting through,” says Lee.
For private renters, its crucial that landlords receive help from a government-funded insulation programme too, because it’s young families like Lee’s who will benefit from the warmer home it will bring.
More targeted financial support is urgently needed. The package announced in the Autumn Statement is welcome but doesn’t go far enough to protect those most at risk.
We need renewable energy sources to lower our bills
People of colour are more than twice as likely to live in some of England’s coldest neighbourhoods.
Iqra’s family lives in one of the coldest neighbourhoods in Yorkshire, in an area of Bradford where the majority of residents - over 90% - are people of colour and 59% are under 18.
Iqra lives with her parents and younger brother and sister.
“They’ve raised our bill from one-hundred-and-something to £400 a month”. She says her family are worried about the cost but they do their best to stay warm. “What we tend to do is we layer up, and we’ve got our own hot water bottles and we keep those in our beds.”
Iqra can see a solution. “I think the only way around this is we need renewable energy sources, we need to get rid of these bills somehow.”
We agree. Homegrown renewable energy is the cheapest energy the UK could have, and onshore wind and solar are the fastest to build.
We need electric heating and a fairer energy system
Back in Rhyl, Thomas has a pre-paid meter that costs him money even without turning his heating on. “If I don’t have it on for two weeks it takes £20 off straight away because of the standing charge".
We need to move away from heating our homes with gas and look at a better system than standing charges and pre-paid meters. We need to move to electric heating that can use clean renewable energy and deliver heat only when its needed and put people above the profits of the fossil fuel industry.
Communities supporting each other
Communities are already coming together to support each other. Ilyas is a community organiser for Halifax Opportunities Trust.
“I think we’ve got such an amazing community spirit where people help each other. We’ve got organisations like ourselves which help and you know you can turn to someone, and I think despite whatever issues we may face, we’ve got fantastic people that are available to make a difference in someone’s life.”
United for Warm Homes
Across England and Wales Friends of the Earth is powering local coalitions, including people worried about rising bills, people who want to improve renter's rights, and people concerned about the climate crisis.
Ditching fossil fuels for renewables and taxing oil and gas profits to pay for free insulation, will lower our bills and our harmful emissions.