Climate change is expected to have a range of impacts on human health in the UK, mainly due to higher average temperatures and an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather, such as heat waves and flood. Groups with pre-existing vulnerabilities are expected to be most affected by these impacts. London, with its dense urban environment and lack of green space, is particularly susceptible to heat.
Equinox is a social care organisation offering a range of accommodation and community based services for people with alcohol, drug and mental health problems. The organisation operates across London and the South East.
Sharon Bye, Director of Operations at Equinox, said:
“Many of our service users are marginalised, experience social exclusion and have complex needs. In 2009 we took part in the Big Response Project and worked with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) to understand how climate change would impact upon us. Our decision to do this was partly due to our commissioners requiring us to address sustainability issues with more rigour but also through the leadership of our Board of Trustees who considered it a priority. Through this process we looked at the existing risks that heat poses to our services and users, and the ways in which they are likely to increase.”
Through facilitated focus groups (staff and service users) Equinox identified a number of specific risks to service users:
In response to these issues, Equinox has taken a number of steps. These have included the installation of water coolers and stocking of water for emergencies; assessing cooling of buildings; health awareness work as part of life skills training for users; and developing Business Continuity Plans which take account of the need for day centres to open at different times during hot weather episodes.
Equinox has identified that by using the organisation’s own sites as designated emergency sites for the most vulnerable, this is less daunting for users, many of whom have historically faced issues accessing mainstream services.
Some issues prove harder to address, but the current risks posed by hot weather and future risks of climate change are now considered as part of the corporate plan.