James Anderson of Burnley, 54, carries out free work – including new boilers, repairs and repairs after rogue traders struck – for people, mainly in Lancashire, who might otherwise struggle to afford it.
His community interest company, Depher, is typically funded by a roughly equal split of money from paying customers and donations from the public.
But in the past 18 months, Mr Anderson has seen both revenue streams shrink – especially donations – as people feel the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We went into the pandemic at around £130,000 and we have around £27,000 now, so you can see it’s having a huge impact,” Mr Anderson told the PA news agency.
“We used to have enough money coming in that we could help a lot of people, but we’re now at the stage where if things don’t change and we don’t see an improvement in private jobs or a huge improvement when funding comes in, then Depher may need to go on a permanent basis. Close.”
During the pandemic, the company has stepped outside its normal territories and has taken on duties including providing personal protective equipment to nursing homes and the NHS, setting up a food bank and organizing surprise birthday parties for children whose parents had been fired or laid off.
Such work was a further drain on funds, to the point where Mr Anderson said he had not received a salary since the start of the first lockdown last year.
Depher, who Mr. Anderson says has helped as many as 17,000 people, currently employs about 10 people but has already had to let go of one full-time apprentice.
“We’ve already started the layoffs and I don’t want to do more,” Anderson said.
In an effort to secure funding, Mr Anderson has written to local MPs, the Prime Minister and even the Queen, but has so far been unsuccessful.
He expects the effects of the pandemic to continue to hit the public’s wallets, so he hopes companies can step in to help bridge the funding gap.
He said, “The only way I can see it improving is if the government steps in and says ‘OK, we’ll give you some sort of financing’…or if other companies come in and offer some substantial form of investment, maybe partnerships, something like that.
“Going forward, we can no longer rely on the public because the biggest hit in this country in the long run because of Covid is the public.”
The clients Depher has recently helped include a 95-year-old man who was awarded a prize of nearly £300 by another company for someone to bleed his radiators, and a couple who were charged over £5,000. by another company for a bathroom that was so poorly done that, said Mr. Anderson, it was dangerous.
He said he is meeting an increasing number of elderly people who live for years without heating or hot water because they are too embarrassed to tell family they can’t afford to get it fixed.
As it stands, he fears he may not be able to continue in December, leaving such customers vulnerable throughout the winter.
“It would mean a lot more people are suffering,” he said.