THERMAL images have shown the stark reality for Rhyl residents living in some of the coldest homes in the country. 

Environmental campaign group, Friends of the Earth, has identified 100 of the ‘coldest neighbourhoods’ in Wales. Homes in these areas are the hardest to heat due to low energy efficiency ratings, making energy use and bills higher than average, and where most people are also living on low incomes.

Rhyl North comes in at second on the list, with homes there an average energy efficiency rating of 57.03 (below 68 is described as poor). 

Friends of the Earth commissioned photojournalist Grey Hutton to visit Rhyl with a thermal imaging camera to create vivid and compelling visualisations of their stories.

He met with families and individuals living in the town, where poorly insulated, heat-leaking homes are proving not just impossible to keep warm but are often riddled with damp issues and putting health and wellbeing at risk too.

The photo series highlights how people of colour, disabled people, older people, and those living on low incomes are among those disproportionately impacted by the energy crisis.

Among those photographed was 48-year-old Thomas who lives in Rhyl. He describes “walking around like the Michelin Man”, wearing three pairs of trousers in his home to keep warm because he can’t afford to heat it, citing the standing charge on his pre-payment meter as a driving cause.

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Meanwhile 78-year-old Audrey, who also lives in Rhyl and has a number of health issues, said that she lives in just one room of her home because it is the only way she can afford to stay warm. One of the images starkly captures just how cold the tips of her fingers are because she struggles with poor circulation and arthritis. 

The UK has some of the worst insulated homes in Europe, making them expensive to heat as warmth escapes through walls, windows, roofs and doors. Last month, a coroner said  that the death of 2-year-old Awaab Ishak, who died after “chronic exposure” to mould created by damp in his home, should be a “defining moment” for the UK’s housing sector.

As the images show, people are doing everything they can to try to stay warm and protect each other from the impacts of rising bills. The heart-warming image from Foryd Community Centre in Rhyl, which offers a foodbank and a community café, shows how people are supporting each other.

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Their release marks the launch of United for Warm Homes, a campaign powered by Friends of the Earth. United for Warm Homes is a growing alliance of community groups and individuals campaigning for the solutions that will bring down energy bills for good and cut the harmful emissions that cause climate change.

In Wales, the group is urging the Welsh Government to urgently introduce its new Warm Homes programme to help those most in need, and through street-by-street insulation in neighbourhoods. A tougher windfall tax, without the loopholes that allow firms to recoup tax savings for every £1 invested in fossil fuels, could readily fund a £5bn a year insulation scheme.

Catriona Currie, warm homes campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Harrowing stories like the ones captured in these striking photos are shamefully all too common right now. We have millions of people facing an incredibly bleak winter ahead, and with the festive season right around the corner.

“We’ve heard how people are making every adjustment they can to ease the enormous cost pressures they’re facing, and the cold is far from the only problem – damp issues are putting health and wellbeing at risk too.

“No one should have to live in a freezing home, just so they can afford to pay for food or meet other rising living costs." 

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Improving the energy efficiency of homes is the most effective way we can support householders to reduce their energy bills and more than 67,000 homes have benefitted from our £394m Warm Homes programme over the last 10 years.

“This winter, we have expanded our advice services and our Fuel Support Scheme, which will provide a £200 payment to an extra 200,000 households. We have also provided nearly £4 million to introduce a national fuel voucher and Heat Fund scheme in Wales for households that have to prepay for their fuel.

"The scheme, which began in the Autumn, provides direct financial support to eligible households on prepayment meters and those not connected to the mains gas network who are struggling to prepay for their fuel and are at risk of disconnection.”