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Helping people in the cold and snow

Snow can mean different things to different people. For lots of us, it can be a good thing. If covers the ground, turning everything magical and white. It can mean that schools are closed so there’s an extra day to play outside and have fun, building snowmen. It can mean time to throw snowballs and make igloos and have fun.

Wipsenade at English Wikipedia
A blizzard on December 18, 2010, at Leamington Spa in the United Kingdom. Creative Commons

But for a lot of people, snow means big problems.

Snow can prevent people getting to work, such as doctors and nurses. It can mean that people who are on their own and vulnerable may not get the help they need, such as the elderly and ill. It can mean those with not much money can struggle with affording heating. It can be very dangerous for homeless people who may not have anywhere to go to get safely out of the cold.

How to help

There are lots of ways, big and small, that you can make a difference and we’ve got a few ideas to get you started, plus links to organisations and charities that are looking for help, donations, or that have more ways for you to make a difference.

  1. Be prepared yourself

Make sure you and your family and friends are safe first! Keep an eye on the weather forecast and make sure you have everything you need to keep going if the weather is bad enough to make walking, driving or getting about by public transport difficult.

The MET Office have a handy guide on how to get ready covering everything from keeping your home warm to how to cycle in the snow!

2. Check on your family

If you’ve got grandparents or older family members, give them a phone call to check they are okay. If they live far away, there may be neighbours near them that can pop in to check they have everything that they need and that they are warm enough.

3. Check on your neighbours

If you have elderly or ill neighbours that live nearby, visit them to check that they are warm enough, have enough electricity or gas to keep their heating on warm enough and/or have blankets and covers, and make sure they have enough food in the house.

When the snow falls, it can be particular risky for older people to go out as they risk falling and injuring themselves. You could offer to go to the shops for them, or parents can offer to drive them to medical appointments and to pick up prescriptions if it’s safe to do so.

The NHS says:

“If you’re worried about a relative or elderly neighbour, contact your local council or call the Age UK helpline on 0800 678 1174 (8am-7pm every day).”

Snow in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, on 1 December 2010 by Ggoere. Public Domain

4. If you spot someone sleeping rough in the snow

Don’t ignore them! There are lots of ways to help.

Firstly, talk to them if you feel confident doing so. The streets are a lonely place, and a conversation and a hot drink can help a lot in the first instance.

Get in touch straight away with StreetLink. Using the website or the phone number it provides, you can send an alert to StreetLink and it will contact the local authority or outreach centre nearest to them to arrange for someone to get them help and shelter.

Find the local homeless shelter using Homeless Link, a directory listing locations and contact details for them across England.

If the person needs urgent medical attention, you’ll need to call 999 and get in touch with the emergency services.

Charities such as Crisis and Shelter are focussed on ending homelessness, so you can donate or raise money for them which will help them in their work.

… and something a bit more unusual!

In some places, people have been leaving out scarves and gloves tied around lampposts. They have notes on saying that they are not lost, but are in fact left for people to use if they are cold and don’t have one. What a lovely idea! Some are knitted by hand, others are donated.

It’s called ‘scarf-bombing‘!


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