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Northern Gas Networks (NGN), the gas distributer for the north of England, has launched its first urban Warm Hubs scheme at St Paul’s Centre in Newcastle, supporting vulnerable customers living in fuel poverty.

The event, led by NGN in partnership with Together Newcastle, follows the huge success of a pilot project in rural Northumberland, which provided vulnerable and elderly residents with a place to get warm, enjoy a hot meal and meet friends.

The rural scheme now has 11 sites in place at centres across the county, which have supported 1,740 people and helped realise £818,000 in benefits so far.

St Paul’s Centre, which is based at Willington Quay became home to the first official urban Warm Hub, with plans now in place to open a further seven hubs in Newcastle this year before the scheme is further rolled out across northern England.

Fuel poverty is a problem throughout Newcastle, with 13% of households in the city estimated to be living in fuel poor conditions according to a 2016 survey. The Warm Hubs scheme aims to support those living in fuel poverty by offering energy advice as well as somewhere warm to socialise with friends.

Stephen Ramshaw, Community Minister for St Paul’s Centre said: “The recent event at St Paul’s was a brilliant way to launch the Warm Hubs project in the city, with people visiting for some food, warmth, and advice on keeping their energy bills down.”

Tom Bell, Head of Social Strategy for Northern Gas Networks, said: “Fuel poverty is a huge problem throughout our region but it’s great to see the lessons learned through our rural Warm Hubs benefitting our first urban Warm Hub at St Paul’s.

“This will be the first of what NGN and Together Newcastle hope will be a growing programme of urban Warm Hubs, and I look forward to the success of this project and to helping a greater diversity of communities through the Warm Hubs.”

“Many people don’t realise they are eligible for a free or discounted connection, so we hope these events will allow us to find more people eligible for free gas connections, or supply energy efficiency advice.”

Steve Forster, Development Worker for Together Newcastle added: “I’m delighted to be working with NGN and excited to be part of rolling out this initiative within communities across Newcastle and North Tyneside.

“Warm Hubs are a simple and effective way of bringing people together who otherwise may become isolated and lonely, and struggling a bit with heating their homes; they also provide a great opportunity for community groups and churches to make use of their buildings.

“As more Warm Hubs become established we hope to see local communities and people flourish and thrive.”

If you think you are eligible for a free or discounted gas connection, visit www.northerngasnetworks.co.uk./yourconnections