It’s an insidious killer which quietly claims hundreds of lives in Cumbria every year.

The shocking fact is 300 older people in Cumbria die most winters because they cannot afford to heat their homes.

Many must choose between heating and eating. In some years, the toll has risen to 500.

And Cumbria is worse hit than many other parts of the country.

The Government recorded 658 Covid-related deaths in Cumbria up to November 13 this year.

Yet the losses from the effects of cold occur in our communities, sometimes unnoticed, year after year.

The annual Winter Warmth Appeal, run by the charity Cumbria Community Foundation, raises hundreds of thousands of pounds which is distributed directly to local older people in grants which they can spend on heating their homes.

“There is no question that this appeal saves lives,” said Andy Beeforth, chief executive of CCF.

“The Winter Warmth Appeal has raised £1 million over the past 10 years and the money goes directly to vulnerable people who are in need.

“Fuel poverty is one of the hidden issues affecting this rural county and it greatly impacts on the health and wellbeing of those who cannot afford to heat their homes.”

The proportion of winter-related deaths is higher in Cumbria than most of the UK, said CCF.

Cumbria also has some of the highest rates of fuel poverty, which means not being able to afford to heat your home adequately or spending more than one tenth of your income on heating.

Six million households in the UK are calculated to be living in fuel poverty, with more in rural areas - and as a rural county Cumbria is especially hard hit.

All the districts in Cumbria have a higher proportion of people living in fuel poverty than the national average with 14,302 suffering, says CCF, which is based at Dovenby, near Cockermouth.

Parts of Barrow and the Eden Valley are among the worst affected areas in the UK.

Fuel poverty is worse in rural areas because there are more older properties which are often unsuitable for cavity wall insulation, off the gas mains network and using oil, solid fuel or storage heaters.

Research has shown that temperatures of less than 12 degrees Celsius in the home can lead to health problems for elderly people, including a rise in blood pressure.

When the body temperature falls it causes thickening of the blood which makes circulation difficult and contributes to heart attacks and strokes.

Cold also makes falls and accidents in the home more likely, says CCF.

In cold weather one third of older people living on a low income will cut back on food and two thirds will cut back on heating, according to the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

The Winter Warmth Appeal is run by Cumbria Community Foundation in partnership with Age UK, which makes sure the money reaches those in need.

Last year, 1,166 Cumbrians were helped to keep warm after more than £200,000 was donated to the appeal.

And 345 people were helped in the Carlisle and Eden area last year by the appeal, receiving a total of £42,240 to heat their homes.

Many locals have spoken eloquently about the suffering caused by living in the cold.

A 75-year-old man from Penrith says he is grateful for the grant over winter: “It has made all the difference in the world.

“It means I can keep warm and have a decent Christmas dinner.”

A 77-year-old woman from Carlisle said: “It’s a wonderful help. I have an old house that’s very cold and knowing that the money is coming helps for the winter.

“It makes a big difference.”

A 71-year-old man from Workington said: “The money was very welcome. Without it, I can either eat or put the gas on.

“My pension is very low. It went up £2.50 last year, but the rent and council tax went up by more.

“It gave me the confidence to put the heating on. Because when you are on low income you haven’t got much spare cash.”

Jean Lownds, 66, from Kendal, received a Winter Warmth grant.

“I couldn’t believe it when I received the money last year,” said Jean. “It was absolutely wonderful, it helped me such a lot. It was such a relief.”

Jean had to leave her job at Asda because of ill-health but wasn’t able to draw her pension for seven months.

“I was really struggling. Money just stopped coming in and I didn’t know which way to turn,” said Jean.

“I was using very, very little heating because I was worried about the money. It was getting seriously cold in the flat.

“I used to go to bed at about 7.30pm and put the electric blanket on for one hour and then turn it off and just stay in bed until the morning, because it was too cold to sit up.

“I have Reynard’s disease which is bad circulation, and my legs could be so painful with the cold they would go purple. I used to dread it if there was going to be ice or snow because it would be so cold.

“I was just worried to death about the money a lot of the time.”

She received £150 and says it allowed her to put two heaters on in her flat.

“It meant I was comfortable, and honestly it was amazing. I even stayed up and watched TV,” said Jean.

“I would like to say a massive thank you to the people who donated to the Winter Warmth Appeal.

“It made a huge difference to me.”

With your help The Cumberland News wants to raise £150,000 for the Winter Warmth Appeal 2020.

After launching our campaign to support the appeal two weeks ago, donations from generous readers have flooded in and at the time of writing the appeal stands at more than £50,000.

If you haven’t donated yet, please think about giving. Every little helps.

Your donations to the Winter Warmth Appeal will be paid out in grants directly to vulnerable local people in need, helping them to stay safe and well.

This year, any donations made between Monday, November 16 and midday Monday, December 14 will be doubled with match funding to double the impact.

You can give by calling 01900 825760 or going online to and