Did you know the stress that high heat can cause on your body, especially for a few days in a row, can be dangerous? And that Southwark was one of the hottest areas in England during 2021?
This summer, a team of journalists and scientists are working on a community-based project that will show how hot people’s houses really get during a heatwave - and what this means for people’s health. We’re looking for people to take part. So if you found the heat in your home tough last year, read on.
Hot Homes will shed light on the issue of heat inequality in the UK and especially how it affects people in certain types of housing and with health issues such as diabetes, respiratory and cardiac conditions, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The project in a nutshell
We are working with people in Southwark, in inner London, to place monitors in households during the summer, which will measure heat, humidity and air pollution.
We will also work with participants, especially during heatwave periods, to share their experiences, encouraging them to journal, take photos and take part in interviews.
By combining the data from the monitors with people’s personal reflections, we will highlight what it’s like for the people most affected and show just how bad heat inequality is. This has never been done in the UK before and we hope it will spark change that can benefit everyone.
Why are you measuring the temperature inside people’s homes?
In the UK, we've recorded temperatures outside for years but data from inside people's homes has never been recorded before. We believe that some people are experiencing really high temperatures inside their homes in the UK, where houses are generally designed to keep heat in, not let it out.
Sustained high temperatures can be dangerous, and as summers get hotter in the UK due to climate change, this issue will likely start to affect more people, more often. Experts have criticised the UK government for its lack of preparedness and for the continued building of new housing which isn't resistant to heat.
Why should I get involved?
We’re interested in speaking to people who have found the hot temperatures of previous summers have caused them trouble or discomfort. This could be generally feeling or becoming unwell or conditions like asthma getting worse, or it could be difficulty getting housing to a comfortable living temperature and not being able to sleep at night.
If you take part, it will be a chance to show how hot your home is (we will share this data with you) and how this affects you. This is a chance to ensure those in charge of housing make sure measures are put in place to make housing safe and comfortable for everyone.
Where do I need to live to take part?
We’re focussing specifically on an area of Southwark just south of Elephant and Castle station, which includes the areas around Walworth, Elmington Estate, and the Willowbrook Estate, as well as parts of Bermondsey and North Peckham. The map below shows the boundaries of the project area.
Why this area?
Southwark is one of the hottest places in the country and from talking to people and organisations in the area, we know housing and heat is an important issue to people.
By focusing on this area, we can capture the nuances and challenges faced by residents, while also considering the broader implications for other parts of the UK.
What will I need to do?
We are asking each person to take a heat sensor into their homes, which will take regular temperature and humidity readings for six weeks from mid-July to the end of August. This can be plugged into a socket in a quiet corner and left to collect data. People taking part will also complete a questionnaire or interview at the start and end of this period. We are also keen to hear how people are finding the heat in their own words. This might include journaling, taking photos, responding to texts on hot days, having a quick chat with our reporters (on the phone or in person), or coming together with other people from the community to share your experiences of the heat.
All of these interactions will be as light-touch and convenient as possible. We will be flexible and accommodate any language, literacy or other needs in how we do this. And we’re open to ideas! This is the community’s investigation so if participants or organisations working with us have ideas we would love to hear them.
How will you measure the heat in my home?
We are using small monitors that will record data every minute or so. At the end of the period, Glasgow University scientists will download and process all the data and we’ll work together to identify any patterns. The units are 11cm by 11cm and very light. They will be silent and we will provide instructions for them (though it’s really just a case of plugging them in and leaving them to it!).
How will my data be used?
Your name and address will NOT be shared beyond small core teams at the Bureau and at Glasgow University’s Urban Big Data Centre. The information collected by participants will be used by the Bureau and other media/project partners to create stories that draw attention to this issue. All data published will be anonymised unless you give informed consent to be named.
I want to take part! What do I do next?
What if English isn’t my first language?
We want this project to be open to everyone. If English isn’t your first language, if you can’t access a computer or phone regularly, or if you have other literacy or accessibility needs, please contact [email protected].
Who’s at risk in a heatwave?
A heatwave can affect anyone, but according to NHS England, the most vulnerable people are:
older people – especially those over 75 and female
those who live on their own or in a care home
people who have a serious or long-term illness including heart or lung conditions, diabetes, kidney disease, Parkinson's disease or some mental health conditions
people who are on multiple medicines that may make them more likely to be badly affected by hot weather
those who may find it hard to keep cool – babies and the very young, the bed bound, those with drug or alcohol addictions or with Alzheimer's disease
people who spend a lot of time outside or in hot places – those who live in a top-floor flat, the homeless or those whose jobs are outside
What will this project do?
Our project aims to raise awareness and spark meaningful change regarding heat and housing in Southwark and the UK.
Our hope is that this collaborative effort will drive systemic change, and help to ensure everyone, regardless of their housing type or health conditions, can live in safe and comfortable homes, even during heatwaves.
Throughout the project we will be working closely with community organisations like Pembroke House and Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations, as well as local community news, to make sure our journalism is useful to people in Southwark.
Who is running this project?
This project is being run by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit news organisation that has done lots of work around social inequality and reports in the public interest. We’ve published investigations into homelessness, domestic violence, insecure employment, social care and many other topics. Our work has been co-published in newspapers and on TV, for example with ITV and Channel 4 News. You can see some of our stories here. This project is part of our community-led investigations pilot, which is exploring how to make our investigations more led by the communities who have often been ignored or harmed by the media.
Our work seeks to spark change, not just make headlines. That’s why we continue to work on projects like this long after publication, to make sure that the findings can be as useful as possible. Findings from previous Bureau investigations have been used by grassroots community groups, campaigners, trade unions, regulators, politicians, and academics. Our stories and data have contributed to changes in policy and law at local and international level.
Our partners are scientists at the Urban Big Data Centre at Glasgow University, who have experience in investigating heat and air pollution.
How can I stay safe during the summer?
- Make sure you stay hydrated - drink plenty of water.
- During hot periods keep curtains, blinds or shutters closed during the daytime.
- Stay in touch with family and friends and let them know how you are doing.
- Look out for local community centres that are being kept cool, these can be good places to go to on really hot days.
- For more practical tips on how to keep yourself and others safe, visit the NHS Heatwave page.
Can I trust you?
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is committed to working in collaborative and consultative ways with the people we report on. We typically engage in investigations over months and even years, which give us time to be empathetic and considered in how we work within communities.
We have dedicated community organisers working across our organisation, who work with our reporters to make sure our reporting is not extractive, our processes uphold the dignity of those we report on, and our findings can be useful to and support people advocating for improved conditions.
As some background, here are some investigations we've published in the past year:
Thousands of vulnerable people cut off from gas and electricity (with The Mirror)
Lack of affordable lets leaving families with little to live on (with Channel 4 Dispatches)
Disabled people trapped waiting for years for vital home adaptations (with Channel 4)
Predatory businesses profit off personal debts (with Channel 4 News)