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The North of England’s gas distributor, Northern Gas Networks (NGN), has been shortlisted in the Community Initiative of the Year category at this year’s Utility Week Awards for its programme to combat fuel poverty.

NGN has been shortlisted for their Warm Hubs initiative, a pioneering community project, in partnership with Community Action Northumberland, that aims to help residents facing the misery of fuel poverty, isolation and loneliness.

The hubs provide warm, friendly places, staffed by volunteers, where customers living in vulnerable situations, usually in areas that aren’t connected to the gas network, can go to socialise, get warm, have a hot meal and access information, advice and referrals to relevant support.

20 Warm Hubs are now thriving in Northumberland and more than 1,000 residents attend each week during the winter months. The self-sustaining scheme has also attracted around £750,000 in funding from external sources and 200 volunteers have been trained to support.

Social Strategy Project Manager Jill Walker (right), joins Community Minister Stephen Ramshaw to serve up lunch

Tom Bell, Head of Social Strategy, Northern Gas Networks, said: “Fuel poverty is a problem throughout our region so we launched our Warm Hubs scheme to reach out to those residents who are living in uncomfortable conditions and struggling to keep warm.

“We are honoured to hear that the scheme has been shortlisted at the Utility Week Awards and look forward to Monday 11 December when the winners are announced.”

NGN has recently launched a new Warm Hub at St Paul’s Centre in Newcastle – the first time the concept has been tried in an urban environment, and has a further seven hubs planned for the city.

Christine Nicholls, Community Development Officer for Community Action Northumberland, said: “Warm Hubs provide friendly, cosy places where local people can go to socialise, stay warm and get a hot meal. They are a simple and effective way of bringing people together who otherwise may become isolated and lonely, and struggling with heating their homes.  We’re delighted that the scheme has been recognised by Utility Week.”

NGN has been shortlisted against Bulb, Southern Water, SP Energy Networks and UK Power Networks. Winners of all 11 award categories will be announced at the Utility Week Awards ceremony at the Grosvenor Hotel in Mayfair, London on Monday 11 December.

The Utility Week Awards recognise excellence across the industry and reward organisations that have achieved outstanding performance in the last year. The 11 award categories are open to any company involved in the utilities sector – companies producing, distributing and retailing energy or water.

Anyone that smells gas or suspects carbon monoxide should call the National Gas Emergency Service immediately on 0800 111 999. This line is in operation 24-hours a day, seven days a week.