Real Nappies – Flashy pants and smooth bottoms

Are you a new parent or expecting a little bundle of joy? Wondering whether it’s possible to go green and save money, while ensuring your little one’s bottom stays soft and dry with minimal fuss? Then it’s worth considering real nappies.

Nappy lineGone are the days when they were bulky white squares of terry towelling held together with a safety pin. But what about the smelly bucket of used nappies sat in the corner waiting to be washed?

We get the low down on what you can expect from the modern day real nappies straight from one of our real nappy mums, Ruth, who has written a frank account about her experiences and her growing love for cloth nappies.

Green goddess or green eyed monster?

My baby’s skin is like silk. His rosy cheeks and chubby thighs display the very picture of health, and I’m particularly proud of his bottom.

Yes, that’s right. His wee bum is as smooth as… a baby’s bottom. He has no trace of nappy rash, no irritation and wears his nappy all night up to 12 hours with no ill effects. At 14 weeks old the only thing we have ever used on his skin is coconut oil, and my homemade baby wipes are soaked in a mixture of boiled water, baby oil and lavender oil.

But I believe the real reason for his peachy wee buns to be his delightful set of cloth nappies. And when you have this as an excuse, not to mention the financial and environmental benefits, it’s easy to get carried away.

Carried away? With what?

My name is Ruth and I’m a cute cloth addict.

I recently joined a Facebook group to try and sell on my newborn size ‘stash’ and made a tidy £90 back from my original spend of £120. Result. But in doing so I found myself scanning the ‘for sale’ posts in the group, day and night while waiting for mine to sell.

I have to confess there is now only £23 left in my paypal account. I’ve been unable to resist buying some of the cute designs I’ve seen. And I’ve been telling myself that this is a perfect example of a low carbon cycle – all these nappies are ‘pre-loved’ (let’s not think about all the Carbon Royal Mail are expending pinging these things to and fro across the country from one mad mum to the next).

Like a real addict, I’ve been rooting through my other nappies to see which old tatty ones I can sell on to fund my new habit. I was given a bunch of tired but functional nappies by friends and colleagues and *ping* they just sold tonight. So I’m like a gambler – trying not to be tempted by more cute cloth.

My poor, poor husband. He is becoming increasingly bewildered by my new habit. Lots of new nappies arriving means new systems to work out and new methods, remembering which boosters go with which nappy and so on.

Real Nappies_LittlelambMy favourite type of nappy is a pocket style – you have an outer ‘shell’ with Velcro or poppers to fasten and more poppers to adjust height (so they can fit a baby for a long time). These have an opening at one end so you can insert a booster pad, which is the bit that absorbs all the wee. The leg/waist elastic is what contains any solids and the great thing about pocket nappies is that you can add more boosters for more absorbency. Here’s a picture (copyright Littlelamb).

My favourite booster material is bamboo – not only is it a natural material but it’s super absorbent. It takes a while to dry compared with cotton or microfibre but it’s by far the most effective of the three. You can also get boosters made of hemp and even charcoal… A whole new world eh?

To find out how Ruth got on with night time nappies and how she tackled her bucket of dirty nappies, read the full article Green goddess or green eyed monster? about her real nappies’ experience.

Real NappiesIf you want to be able to see and touch the real nappies for yourself and talk to other parents who have used them, then come along to one of Changeworks’ free Nappuccino events. They are held on the last Thursday of the month in Edinburgh. You can also find out more about real nappies on our website, and can sign up to the Nappuccinos on our Facebook page.

Our next Nappuccino is from 10am to 11:30am on Thursday 27 March 2014, Duncan Place Resource Centre, Duncan Place (just off Duke St, Leith), Edinburgh, EH6 8HW. Come along for a coffee and a chat!

European insights on tackling fuel poverty

Stuart Hay, Senior Consultant

Stuart Hay, Senior Consultant

Changeworks’ Senior Consultant Stuart Hay presented our latest research findings at the ‘Energy Check for Low Income Households’ seminar in Berlin recently. Here, Stuart shares research insights and learnings for both the UK and Europe.

First the good news: Scotland and the UK are European leaders on tackling fuel poverty. Our policy framework is both sophisticated and comprehensive. The bad news is that this reflects the fact that the problem is more acute and deep rooted in the UK. What’s more, we are only slightly further down the road in terms of developing a practical response to address the issue, but face clear challenges in funding in-depth support, working with energy companies and integrating advice projects and employability. This is one of the key insights Changeworks gained from participating in EU funded advice project Energy Check for Low Income Households (EC-LINC).

leep warmburghEC-LINC allowed Changeworks to compare its work and operating environment with European partners in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Hungary.  Funding for the project came from the Intelligent Energy Europe programme.  Early in the project it became apparent that things can be very different on the continent.  In most of the partner countries there is no established definition of fuel poverty. Often the traditional UK definition[1], when a household is required to use 10% or more of its income on energy bills, is used as a proxy although is not officially recognised.  In the UK we measure the number of people in fuel debt and disconnections – something they don’t measure in other EU countries. This shows the scale of the problem we face in the UK. It is clear the work by campaigners to define and raise national awareness of the issue and set targets in the UK is useful in focusing policy and actions.

EC-LINC looked at replicating the German “Stromspar-Check”, a model which trains long-term unemployed people to become energy advisors and provide energy audits to low income households.  This is already being delivered to 100 local authorities (municipalities) across Germany. Here in the UK the changing landscape of benefits legislation and employability meant an employability initiative was impractical to set up at the start of the project. Instead, Changeworks focused on sharing the lessons from a wide range of ongoing existing fuel poverty advisory services and projects. At the same time, a parallel EU project ACHIEVE (Action in low-income households to improve energy efficiency through visits and energy diagnosis), involving Severn Wye Energy Agency (SWEA) in Wiltshire, provided us with a reference point on how fuel poverty and employability initiatives could be combined in the UK. ACHIEVE confirmed that starting the process from scratch is very challenging, both in terms of recruitment and retaining advisors. Similar issues were experienced by EC-LINC country partners, with most turning to existing professional advisors and social enterprises to deliver the energy checks. Germany and particularly Belgium had more success, but this involved building their projects around established training and social enterprise initiatives.  It is clear that synergies between fuel poverty advice and employability seem logical in theory, but difficult to achieve in practice.

A major challenge for any energy advisor, and especially one re-entering the job market, is having the skill set, experience and confidence to deal with the multiple issues faced by low income households. These include debt, health issues, cultural barriers and, in some cases, exploitation by landlords and energy companies.  In our experience, the role of an energy advisor is challenging, demanding, focused on outcomes for the customer but also fulfilling. Changeworks has also discovered that people can experience and try out a similar ‘work experience’ through our volunteering programmes, such as Heat Heroes – an approach yet to be taken by partners.

leep warmburghThe project findings also confirmed that working with other local advice providers is critical, eg Citizens Advice Bureaux, local authorities and housing associations.  In the UK, fuel billing, tariff changes and assessing benefit eligibility were at least, if not more important than, energy advice to reduce energy usage.  Whilst some householders could see immediate benefits from advice on heating systems, closing windows and draught proofing etc, in other cases the opportunities for savings were limited because households were smaller with already fairly minimal energy use.  In partner countries where the focus was on ‘softer’ behaviour change interventions and electricity use, eg energy efficient light bulbs, it was challenging to deliver large energy bill or carbon savings for householders.  Evidence from Belgium and the UK suggests it is important to promote insulation improvements as part of the home visits and tap into national programmes for funding.

Home visits can only have limited impact for householders when there are larger, society-wide issues around poverty that need tackling. For example, if energy suppliers were better at providing cheap and transparent tariffs to vulnerable customers then energy advisors could spend more of their time supporting customers to take up sustainable, energy efficiency behaviours. These wider problems mean that for organisations like Changeworks we’re joining up advice to help tackle common issues such as household budgeting, food waste prevention and more work with benefits advisors.  Where issues are less acute, volunteers can work with clients to help widen the reach and impact of the service.

Most EC-LINC countries had a framework of national support and in this respect Scotland compares well. EC-LINC partners were impressed with the Home Energy Scotland advice centres and the level and quality of advice that could be delivered cost effectively and efficiently over the phone by well-trained advisors.  In South East Scotland this approach provides many referrals to in-depth fuel poverty advice from local projects funded through local authorities and charitable organisations, such as Changeworks.  However, it was clear that these local advice projects operate in a more challenging funding environment than in other countries, due to pressures on local authority budgets.  What this means is a more tailored, innovative and flexible approach, with Changeworks co-ordinating work across 10 separately funded services targeting different groups, often as part of time limited initiatives.  In Belgium, Germany and Austria local government appeared to have more resources and scope to support these initiatives over the longer-term.  In some cases, fuel subsidies and specific benefits, such as winter fuel payments, are paid by local authorities in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Hungary and provided an extra incentive to get people out of fuel poverty.  In Belgium for example, there is a clear path for managing struggling customers with incentives to refer and fund advice services starting with a household energy check – this is not offered to customers in the UK.  National insulation programmes equivalent to Carbon Energy Reduction Target (CERT) and Energy Company Obligation (ECO) also seemed more stable, making projects easier to develop and manage programmes.

In a nutshell, clear learnings and insights emerged from the EC-LINC project, relevant to both the UK and other countries. These include:

1. Shared and understood definitions of fuel poverty at a national level help shape policies and action, especially as fuel poverty issues span energy, housing and income issues.

2. Fuel poverty advice needs skilled and experienced advisors, therefore great care is needed in marrying this type of service with employability initiatives.  This can work, but well established programmes are needed to sustain and support long-term unemployed people into this type of work.

3. Home visits need to be carefully targeted and able to deal with a wide variety of issues experienced by low income households – the emphasis might not be energy saving.  This is especially the case in the UK, where there are often complicated fuel debt, billing or benefits issues to deal with.

4. Home visits are best supported at a local level and this is easier to organise where local or regional government has incentives and the necessary resources to sustain long term programmes.  The UK approach is more innovative, but fragmented due to a dependence on a wide variety of often short-term funding sources.  Energy companies can also be regulated in ways that make them more willing to engage and support local advice services.

5. Expect increasing action at a European level as rising fuel prices make fuel poverty a common issue with a high priority.

It is difficult to say whether it is reassuring or depressing to know that other countries share the same challenges and frustrations that are found in Scotland.  The EC-LINC project found no silver bullets or quick fixes.  It did, however, show that Scotland has a lot to build on.  To achieve more means tackling some big issues, including energy company regulation and bolstering the role of local authorities in supporting the fuel poor and those most in need. Meanwhile, European partners can continue to learn from a more established policy framework and innovations in energy advice delivery in Scotland.

- Stuart

You can read more about Changeworks’ fuel poverty services in the EC-LINC Stakeholder Report published February 2014.

[1] The English definition is now different