AN annual charity campaign to help the region’s elderly and vulnerable people survive the winter months has been launched.

With temperatures forecast to plunge as an icy Arctic blast brings snow by Thursday, the County Durham Community Foundation has launched its third Surviving Winter campaign.

The timely campaign appeals to better-off pensioners to donate their Winter Fuel Payment to the charity, which will then use it to offer practical help to elderly and vulnerable people who need it most.

Last year, almost £7,500 was donated by well-wishers, with the total topped up from the Durham-based charity’s general fund raising.

It meant the Foundation was able to make more than £17,000 in grants to help people through the winter: including help to individuals struggling with their heating bills; blankets, water bottles and food parcels for both elderly and homeless people and grants to several community organisations such as lunch clubs and snow clearance projects.

Among the groups helped last year was Great Lumley Methodist Church, near Chester-le-Street, which received almost £2,300 towards a project proving winter relief packs for the elderly and running its weekly Heaven’s Kitchen hot meals service.

Chief executive Barbara Gubbins said: "Surviving Winter is an important campaign that generates funds to help some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and those most severely affected by fuel bill price hikes and the rise in the cost of living.

"Winter is hard on many of us, but for some it is truly a challenge to survive.

"We know that the need is greater and therefore we encourage people to give in order to help people in their local area."

Up to 24,000 excess winter deaths are recorded each year and the charity said it was "concerned" at Government cuts to the Warm Homes, Healthy People programme.

Ms Gubbins added: "There is significant need in our communities which is often overlooked.

"Thousands of elderly people and families are struggling with the sharp rise in living costs and utility bills leaving them facing big challenges this winter, and unsure of where to turn.

"No-one should be left struggling and there is a responsibility on us all to come together and help when we can.

"Last year we raised more than £7,000 which went to a range of causes and organisations in County Durham and Darlington.

"This year, we want to achieve more and help more people than ever."

For further information or to donate, please visit or call 0191-378 6340.