Lancashire plumber offering free work for elderly close to shutting company due to lack of funding
A plumber who provides free work for elderly and disabled customers has warned he is close to having to shut down his company because of a lack of funding.
Burnley-based James Anderson, 54, carries out free work – including new boilers, repairs, and remedial work after rogue traders have struck – for people mostly across Lancashire who might otherwise struggle to afford it.
His community interest company, Depher, has typically been funded by a roughly equal split of money from paying customers and donations from the public.
But over the past 18 months Mr Anderson has seen both revenue streams contract – especially donations – as people feel the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We went into the pandemic with about £130,000 and we’ve now got about £27,000, so you can see it’s a massive impact,” Mr Anderson told the PA news agency.
“We used to have enough money coming so we could help a lot of people, but we’re now at the stage where, if things don’t change and we don’t see an improvement in private jobs coming in or a massive improvement in funding coming in, then Depher may have to shut permanently.”
During the pandemic, the company has stepped outside its normal areas, taking on tasks including providing PPE to nursing homes and the NHS, setting up a food bank and organising surprise birthday parties for children whose parents had been furloughed or laid off.
Such work was a further drain on funds, to the point that Mr Anderson said he had not taken a salary since the start of the first lockdown last year.
Depher, which Mr Anderson says has helped as many as 17,000 people, currently employs around 10 staff, but has already had to let one full-time apprentice go.
“We’ve already started the redundancies and I don’t want to do any more,” Mr Anderson said.
In an attempt to secure funding, Mr Anderson has written to local MPs, the Prime Minister and even the Queen but has so far had no success.
He is expecting the fallout from the pandemic to continue affecting the pockets of the public, so is hoping businesses may step in to help bridge the funding gap.
He said: “The only way I can see it improving is if the Government steps in and says ‘OK, we’ll give you some sort of funding’… or if other companies come in and offer some substantial kind of investment, maybe partnerships, something like that.
“Going forward we can’t rely on the public any more, because the biggest hit person in this country in the long term because of Covid is the public.”
The customers Depher has helped recently include a 95-year-old man who was quoted a price of nearly £300 by another company for someone to bleed his radiators, and a couple who was charged more than £5,000 by another company for a bathroom which was so poorly done that, Mr Anderson said, it was dangerous.
He said he comes across an increasing number of elderly people who live without heating or hot water for years because they are too embarrassed to tell family they cannot afford to have it fixed.
As it stands he fears he may not be able to continue past December, leaving such customers vulnerable throughout the winter.
“It would mean a lot more people suffering,” he said.
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