Sharing experiences of fuel poverty and energy rights with ESOL students

Photograph of a fuel poverty tree made by students looking at causes (branches) and solutions (fruits) to fuel poverty
Guest blog post from Rebecca, an English for Speakers of Other Languauges (ESOL) teacher at Tower Hamlets College, about the work her class have been doing on fuel poverty.
Fuel Poverty Action works with those affected by fuel poverty to provide support, information and resources, and plan collective action. If you’d like us to visit your group, please get in touch fuelpovertyaction[at]
I heard that another ESOL teacher was doing some work with the Fuel Poverty Action campaign and was interested in right away, because this issue definitely affects our adult students, who find that all other problems are made worse by difficulty in speaking English.
Also I thought it might be a topic where we might actually be able to make an impact. ESOL classes quite often look at big and serious topics like housing, benefits and immigration, since these all affect students’ lives, but it’s often hard to take action that might make a real difference.
Following suggestions from Dermot at English for Action, we began by brainstorming the causes and consequences of Fuel Poverty. We put these onto a ‘problem tree’ and used it to make sentences. Because we had done a lot of speaking (the students had plenty to say on the topic) it was easy for the students to read a simplified version of the Energy Rights’ leaflet.
Next we had a visit from Izzy who talked us through the issues and answered some questions that the students had. We made some questions for Izzy on topics like key meters, negotiating bills, and legal rights.
We then started looking at solutions to the problem and considered what actions we could do as individuals and as a group.

  • We told each other our problems and experiences of dealing with energy companies. A lot of people were able to share tips that were helpful right away.
  • We role-played different conversations that we might have when phoning companies – this is incredibly hard for many language learners.
  • We wrote to our MPs asking them to sign Early Day Motion 395. Some people have had long replies from the MPs which we will read in class at some point. The letters back were friendly and had useful information, but I notice that neither of our MPs have signed the EDM.
  • Another teacher in the college began to work on the subject, and produced a great listening activity all about standing up to the ‘Big Six’ bullies. We now have a ‘Fuel Poverty Action’ folder on our computer where we can compile any resources we find or make.
  • One student is being supported by Izzy in dealing with her bills. We will see what comes of this and share what she has learned with the group.
  • We will continue with the topic as time allows, and hope to be able to deliver short presentations on the topic to other ESOL classes in the college.
  • We continue to feedback any progress or even when we notice something to do with fuel poverty or energy prices in the news.

Thanks Izzy and Fuel Poverty Action for all the support!