By Anastasia Vartanian

Mission speaks to James Anderson, a plumber from Northern England whose community work has made him a national hero.

James Anderson is a man for the people. Since 2017, the plumber from Lancashire has helped people across England by providing free plumbing to the elderly and vulnerable and operating a fund for groceries and bills for those impacted by the cost of living crisis. By his estimates, his company, DEPHER (Disability and Elderly Plumbing and Heating Emergency Repair), has, directly and indirectly, helped over a million people across the country. It has grown from a one-man operation to a staff of a dozen plumbers and 60+ subcontractors throughout England.

The beginning of DEPHER was in 2017 when Anderson visited an elderly, bed-bound man who wanted a second opinion after an engineer quoted him £5.5k for a boiler replacement. Which, upon Anderson’s inspection, he didn’t need. After Anderson challenged the first company on their rogue tactics, “They put in a brand new boiler free of charge, and they gave the gentleman £1,000,” he tells me over the phone on January morning.

This was the catalyst, but the initial drive behind DEPHER was the passing of Anderson’s young son, William, in 2013. He made a promise to be “the man that I knew he would grow up to have been if he was allowed to live,” says Anderson. But for four years afterward, he lived in anger and apathy. Seeing what happened to that man shook him out of it. “I knew William was there, saying, ‘Come on, dad.'”

DEPHER has existed for over 5 years but now feels more necessary than ever. With the cost of living crisis, Anderson says the number of calls his company receives has grown “massively.” Every week they receive between 200 and 400 applications for help with food, gas, and electric. Every day, DEPHER sends between £80 and £200 worth of groceries from supermarket ASDA to people’s doors all over the country. They also offer between £20 and £80 per meter so people can top their gas and electricity up. Due diligence checks are done to ensure that the people requesting help need it: proof of identity, address, and income are all requested.

The money to operate this service comes from fundraisers like GoFundMe, with actor Hugh Grant alone donating over £50k. Donations can be inconsistent, however, so funds also come from the company’s paid jobs. It’s crucial to Anderson to operate DEPHER with transparency, regularly sharing grocery receipts and testimonies from people he helped on his social media network so that people who donate know their money is going to real people.

During the pandemic, Anderson increased DEPHER’s services. “I think we spent about £62,000 on food in total through the pandemic,” he tells me, adding that they turned their offices into a food bank. He and his staff delivered PPE to nursing homes, hospitals, police stations, and ambulance services, having bought over £70,000 worth of the medical equipment to stop others from inflating its prices. They also organized birthday parties for children whose parents had been laid off or furloughed. “It was really good to see the smiles,” he recalls.

Should the government be doing more to help the people needing DEPHER’s help? Anderson is wary of relying on the government for too much. He wants to see a country where people are “earning enough to live, where they’re earning enough to pay the bills and keep themselves out of debt.” A big issue, he asserts, is privatization. “There are too many companies out there that can make as much profit as they want off the back of the normal tax-paying, working people of the country.” When you get home from work, you shouldn’t be unable to afford necessities and charged extortionate prices for heating and hot water. “The problem is that the country’s run incorrectly. It’s run for greed. It’s not run for the people.”

Anderson is just getting started. “People need someone to actually care for them. They need somebody who they can actually trust. [Knowing] they’re not going to get put into a position where they have to jump over walls and red tape just to get someone to say, ‘yes, we will help you.'” Thankfully, the U.K has someone who, rather than taking advantage of those in hard situations, will “treat them like a human being.”

Image courtesy of Unspalsh

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