It was the early 90s and we were living in a council house in the village of Clavering near Saffron Walden [north-west Essex]. There were four of us: my husband, myself and our two children. The children were growing up fast and still sharing a bedroom, which wasn’t ideal. The village had a great sense of community and we loved living there.
But we were outgrowing our house and we knew we had to move. We heard that English Rural were building a small development of eight affordable homes in the village. So we applied for one and we were successful. We were all thrilled that we could stay in the village and among the community we knew and loved.
The new house was lovely, but because the village is off the mains gas network, electric heaters were fitted. Upstairs had a convertor type and downstairs had night storage heaters – those heavy, brick-filled heaters that meant you needed a crystal ball to predict the weather because they took 24 hours to heat up. Not the best solution for a British climate.
They were also very expensive to run and didn’t always heat the house very well. There were times we had to resort to extra blankets and bedding just to save money. The fan-convector heaters also made the air in the house very dry. The heating was the only thing that let an otherwise almost perfect home down.
Fast forward 25 years. My husband is no longer with me and my two children have flown the nest. I’m now retired and live on my own in the same house and village with a modest pension.
I received a letter from English Rural in the winter of 2018 offering me an opportunity to take part in their retro-fit programme, which was replacing electric heating like mine with an Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP) system. I had no idea what that was, but they said it would be more efficient and save me money. Great news.
I spoke to the maintenance team at English Rural who explained what would happen and when. Shortly after, some heating engineers came around to assess my home. They made sure the property had enough insulation, measured up and explained the process to me.
Two days, five installers and one electrician later my new ASHP heating system was up and running. I was surprised at how quickly the work was completed. They were like ants – to-ing and fro-ing all day to get the job done. Yes, there was dust. And all the carpets had to come up. And it was cold in mid-November. But I couldn’t fault the team. I kept out of their way and they kept out of mine. They were a pleasant, hard-working crew who didn’t sit around all day drinking cups of tea.
After a bit of an early spring clean my house was back to normal. The team explained how the new ASHP heating worked and that it needed very little intervention from me. It’s a bit like driving a new car. The new system worked in a different way and I had to get used to the new buttons and controls. I couldn’t fault it once all the little creases had been ironed out and the temperature had been set correctly.
It’s been six months since the ASHP was installed and I have full praise for it. I have radiators in every room my whole house feels comfortable and warm. No more fan heaters and extra blankets.
But the best thing about it is the cost savings. Before the ASHP was installed, between December 2018 and June 2019, I paid £709 for heating and hot water. After it was installed, between December 2019 and June 2020, I paid only £440. That has saved me (and the planet) nearly 40% in fuel bills – money I can put away or spend on other things I enjoy doing. It was definitely worth a little upheaval.
English Rural has always been very good to me as a housing association over the years. All my repairs have been dealt with promptly and they use a really good, local contractor who I have known forever – they are like family. I was particularly impressed with English Rural during the coronavirus lockdown. They phoned me simply to make sure I was OK and asked if I needed anything.
So, 25 years after living in a cold and expensive-to-heat home I have nothing but praise for a home that is now kinder to me, my wallet and the planet.
Our homes have never been more important to us than they have been during the coronavirus crisis. For some people, home has been a sanctuary. For others, it has been a prison. Everyone deserves a safe, secure, comfortable place to call home. Not just now, in the middle of this crisis, but always.
Investing in social housing makes this possible. It will also boost the economy, create jobs and improve people’s lives when our nation needs it most.
That’s why we’ve launched Homes at the Heart, a national campaign and coalition calling for a once-in-a-generation investment in social housing.