So Energy Invisible Heroes Rebecca Abbott Groundwork

Invisible Heroes: Rebecca Abbott, Groundwork

So Energy

You might have read about our new partnership Groundwork, the federation of charities focused on community action around fuel poverty and the environment. (If not, find out more here.)

Groundwork’s Green Doctors do fantastic work helping people to power and heat their homes in an efficient, environmentally-friendly way. We recently had  the chance to speak to Rebecca Abbott, who works as one of the team of Green Doctors. Read on to find out more about the work Rebecca does, and why it’s more important now than ever. 

Can you tell us about your current work; what do you do, and what are the steps you’ve taken that led you to where you are today?

The work I do today stems from two things: my degree in environmental management and sustainability, and my hope to help the planet in some capacity. 

I admit I was a bit naive coming out of university, not quite knowing where to go or what to do. I ended up stumbling across Groundwork at a volunteer event in my local area. At the time there was an opportunity for a graduate to join the Energyworks team, which I ended up applying for. They trained me up to be a Green Doctor [Groundwork's Green Doctors are energy efficiency experts who visit people in their homes across the UK] and I’ve now been part of the Groundwork team for almost five years. 

What gets you excited to go to work in the morning? 

What I love about this job is how people-oriented it is; you’re making an impact environmentally but you’re also making differences in individual people’s homes, which for me is what’s really exciting. 

I’m such a people person - all our Green Doctors are to be honest! We enjoy being in the community and spending time with people. Lockdown was challenging but we managed to find a way to continue our work by moving over to telephone advice calls. This meant we were still able to help many people, although I admit I still much prefer face-to-face contact!

The rise in energy prices means that many households are finding their budgets are more stretched than ever. What’s your advice to people who are worried about paying their bills?

At the moment every household needs to be paying closer attention than ever to ways of reducing their energy use at home. For instance we used to be a little less strict about telling people to switch appliances off when they’re not in use, but with costs rising it’s now the case that every little bit helps to reduce the amount you have to pay in the long run.

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, it’s a good idea to contact your energy supplier to see if they can offer any more support. That might be through long-term debt repayment plans that are more manageable, spreading repayments over 36 months instead of 12, for example. Other sources of support include contacting Citizens Advice, national debt helplines, or more local charities. There are a number of local charities offering fuel vouchers to pay as you go customers, so it’s worth speaking to Groundwork or your local Citizens Advice to find out about the support available in your local area.

Lastly, I’d advise people to plan ahead. Over summer it’s worth paying a little bit more to your bill if you can, just to build up some credit for when winter comes around. If you are a pay-as-you-go customer, you still need to remember to top up your gas meter over the summer, even if you’re not using it. At the moment the standing charge is around £3 a week so we are encouraging people to top up by £5 a week to keep themselves going and prevent any debt build-up.

Groundwork supports thousands of projects each year, helping people use energy more efficiently, as well as reducing their environmental impact. Is there a moment over your career that you’re particularly proud of? 

It would have to be the team’s response to the pandemic. We managed to adapt very quickly even though suddenly having to do everything over the phone wasn’t always easy - from talking residents through heating controls instead of demonstrating in person, to conference calls with multiple energy suppliers. 

Of course, we’ve now emerged from lockdown to face the current energy crisis, and so we’re busier than ever. By way of perspective, in the last year we’ve dealt with 3,500 individual households - that’s almost triple the number we were seeing before lockdown. The fact that we’ve managed to respond to this increased need as a team makes me incredibly proud. It’s been challenging but so rewarding. 

If you could encourage readers to make one small change to their day-to-day lives in order to positively impact the planet, what would it be?

From a Green Doctor perspective I’d say the best advice we can give is around heating controls and using your heating system effectively and efficiently. This includes making sure programmers and timers are set correctly, using your radiator valves to turn down radiators in rooms you’re not using, and making sure your thermostat is within a reasonable temperature range (the NHS recommends a temperature between 18 - 21°C). 

It’s the same principle with electric heating systems; make sure your hot water tank is set properly and that the time and date is set correctly, as this will impact your Economy 7 setting. If you don’t know how to do that, contact Groundwork and we’ll come out and do it for you! 

They sound like small things but you’d be surprised at how much of a difference it can make.