“It hits you when people say they can’t buy milk”: the superhero plumber who keeps his community warm | Society

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In March 2017, heating contractor James Anderson received a call that would change his life. The man on the other end of the phone had just been told he needed a new boiler, but wanted a second opinion. Anderson drove from his home in Burnley. Upon arrival, he found an elderly man in bed. He needed a winch to stand up and caregivers visited him every day.

The man had no hot water and the kitchen heater made a clicking noise. But none of Anderson’s usual fixes worked. “I was scratching my head,” he said, “wondering what was going on with that boiler.” With a last effort, he opened the tank. There was a magazine floating in it. The previous engineer had put it in there so he could make £ 5,500 by installing a new boiler.

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Anderson was furious. “This engineer had taken full advantage of someone who couldn’t take care of themselves,” he says. Anderson phoned the engineer’s company and sowed hell. They sent someone to install a new boiler and gave the man £ 1,000 in compensation.

Since that day, Anderson has worked to protect other vulnerable people from abusive or unaffordable heating bills. He founded Depher, a community-based business (he is turning it into a registered charity) that provides free or heavily subsidized plumbing and heating services to low-income people and other vulnerable groups. . About 30% of Depher’s funding comes from donations, although it is always difficult to get enough. The rest comes from Anderson’s pocket. When he started Depher, he promptly shut down his profitable plumbing and heating business.

“I’m 54,” says Anderson. “I was on vacation, had the nice car and ate in fancy restaurants. I don’t need to relive them. It is my pleasure and my duty to help those most in need.

To date, Depher has helped 19,000 people, at a cost of £ 1.2million. “He’s so sweet,” says Lynn Shirraf, a Burnley retiree. Depher repaired his boiler last week. If she had to pay for the repairs, she should have cut heat or food. A neighbor told him about Depher. “It makes you feel better about human nature,” she says. “People care.”

Running Depher taught Anderson about hidden poverty in his hometown. “It made me realize that you can walk past a house,” he said, “and that might sound normal. But you don’t know what’s going on inside. Of the people we help, 90% live below the poverty line without telling anyone.

In December 2019, he visited a young couple with two grandsons. “They were freezing,” Anderson says. “When the mother spoke to me, her lower lip quivered.” Two engineers had already charged £ 40 each without fixing the issue. The family couldn’t afford more repairs. Anderson repaired the boiler free of charge. “Mum was sitting there crying,” he recalls. “She said to me, ‘All I want is to keep my kids warm.'”

These are people in this country, Anderson continues, who don’t count their books, but their pennies. Many of them live on state pensions or are single parents claiming universal credit (in October the government ended the universal credit increase of £ 20 per week.)

“The cost of living in this country is horrendous,” says Anderson. “There was a man last week who said: ‘The milk was costing Aldi £ 1.09. This week it has risen to £ 1.15. Will it get to the point where I can’t afford to buy milk for my baby anymore? ‘ It hits home when somebody says that.

Now, with gas prices soaring, he’s worried about how those already struggling will fare. The day we speak, Anderson just got home from fixing a retiree’s furnace. She told him she was already paying an extra £ 100 a month for gas and electricity, which she can barely afford on the state pension.

Anderson believes, with almost religious fervor, in the power of community. “We have a duty as humans,” he says, “to take care of the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable – not to ignore them and to say that this is somebody’s problem. ‘other. “

Some of the James Anderson gift sets delivered to a local care home

When I ask to do something nice for Anderson, he tells me that he wants to donate his treat to his community. He asks me if I can arrange some gift boxes so that he can distribute them to people in need. I contacted Lush, who agreed to provide 50 boxes of bath bombs and other goodies. Anderson dropped off half of them at a local nursing home. He plans to distribute the remaining boxes to a women’s shelter. “I don’t want it to sound cheesy,” Anderson said seriously, “but it was lush. Locals have been looking forward to it all week. They can’t wait to smell good. He plans to keep a pull box to collect. funds for Depher.

Doing something good for his local community “felt good,” says Anderson. “It’s not about getting a reward. It’s about that sense of humanity that you get when people work together. Imagine how much better this country could be, if everyone came together.

Want to nominate someone for Guardian angel? Email us – with their permission – and suggest a treat to guardian.angel@theguardian.com


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