A plumber who provides free work to elderly and disabled customers is aiming to raise enough money to help 1,000 families this winter – and is calling on other tradesmen to come forward and offer their help, too.
James Anderson, from Burnley, runs a not-for-profit company, Depher, which works with a network of plumbers and heating engineers to provide work for customers who are unable to afford it themselves.
His work received a boost earlier this year when an invoice showing a charge of £0, for work on a boiler for a 91-year-old woman with leukaemia, went viral.
That led to a wave of publicity which saw members of the public donating tens of thousands of pounds to help Mr Anderson with his work – and also led to an increase in requests for work from Depher.
He told the PA news agency: “A lot of them haven’t got a lot of income, a lot of them haven’t got a lot of family they can turn to, and most of the time the family they’ve got can’t afford to help them.
“A lot of them are in a situation where they end up paying what they haven’t got to get these repairs done.”
“The cold weather’s coming in now, and we’re getting a lot more calls than we’re used to because everybody now knows about it,” he said.
“A hell of a lot more people have been ringing in for private work and Depher work, a lot of people have now noticed what we do, and a lot of people are ringing up on behalf of family members who need help.”
Now Mr Anderson, who says he is currently receiving around 15 calls a day, is asking for help from the public to raise another £30,000 via a GoFundMe appeal, which he says will mean he can help another 1,000 families over the winter.
“Three days ago I got an email off a lady, there was a woman in Essex who has an oil boiler and she’d got no heating or hot water,” Mr Anderson said. “The carer that looks after her contacted me because of it.
“A company wanted £3,000 upfront payment before they’d even go out and look at the boiler. This woman’s 74, walking around the house in a hat, gloves, scarf – she’s on a pension, she hasn’t got that kind of money. The majority of people in this country haven’t.
“So we’re raising extra funds so we can help up to an extra 1,000 household through this winter because it’s just getting worse.”
Mr Anderson currently works with plumbers in Lancashire, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham and parts of Scotland, but his ultimate aim is to be able to cover the whole of the UK.
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He is encouraging more plumbers and heating engineers who want to help out to get in touch – they must provide their labour free of charge, but Depher pays for parts and offers £30 expenses per job.
“The more people that come on board, the better it’s going to be for us as a trade because we need to get rid of this stigma that a lot of people think that plumbers and heating engineers charge too much and they only do this so they can get the money,” said Mr Anderson.
In the meantime, he is continuing to help customers who are in desperate need of his services, including an 84-year-old woman with cancer and heart problems who contacted him this week.
He said: “Another plumber went in, stripped the boiler down completely, left all the parts on the side, charged her £600 and then rang up and said he’s not coming back.
“So she’s been seven days without a boiler, without heat, without hot water, left in the lurch.
“We’re going in on Saturday, we’re going to give her a free boiler, she won’t be paying a penny for that.”