A plumber from Burnley who rose to internet fame for fixing vulnerable customers’ boilers for free says he has spent around £50,000 supporting people during the pandemic.
James Anderson, 53, shut down his private firm and launched not-for-profit community interest company Depher (Disabled and Elderly Plumbing and Heating Emergency Response) last year.
Mr Anderson pledged to help elderly people and those in financial need with free plumbing tasks during the winter months – prompting one customer to even call for him to receive an honour from the Queen.
However, since the first national lockdown in March, he has branched out beyond plumbing – setting up a foodbank, settling bailiff bills for those unable to pay and providing PPE for local care homes and the NHS.
Mr Anderson told the PA news agency: “We gave out £16,000 worth of PPE and almost 7,000 food parcels during the first lockdown. We also did surprise birthday parties for children, 30 of them.
“We were paying bills for people who couldn’t afford to pay and we did about nine free boilers as well as sorting bathrooms for those hit by rogue traders.”
Despite being overwhelmed with support last year, the handyman, originally from Liverpool, said he is now feeling anxious about how Depher will get through the winter.
His second-hand shop, which he used to raise funds, was forced to close during the second lockdown.
“It depends how bad the winter is and that’s a big question mark. (If) it’s a bad winter, we are going to use a lot of money,” he said.
“We have got to focus on the elderly and disabled over the winter.”
A GoFundMe has so far raised more than £12,000 to allow him to continue supporting the community over winter but Mr Anderson said Depher needs around £10,000 more to survive until January.
“I am just hoping, and praying and wishing we do get through,” he said.
“I’ll be honest, I am a little scared, going into a winter where we don’t know what we are going to get, with Covid on top of everything. It’s a nightmare to plan.
“Sometimes I wake up three or four times a night with anxiety because I don’t know what is going to happen.
“But I have got to carry on. It’s to save lives.”
A disabled teenager was among those in receipt of Depher’s support after they installed a specialist bath in her new supported living facility.
Julie Allen, 52, had been crowdfunding 18-year-old Rose’s bath when Mr Anderson spotted the fundraiser, donating the final £800. He then installed it for free.
Mrs Allen told PA: “When I saw the bill I was crying. I thought, ‘how amazing is this man?’
“He’s unbelievable. He deserves a knighthood.
“I can’t think of a more worthy cause. For people like my daughter, they get duped so easily and taken advantage of and it’s knowing he is around to stop that happening. He’s only got so much money, every penny he gets he puts straight back out into where people need it. ”
Mr Anderson’s acts of kindness first went viral last year after a picture of his bill for £0 he sent to a 91-year-old woman with acute leukaemia was posted online.
The receipt for the boiler repair was accompanied by a note reading: “No charge for this lady under any circumstances. We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible.”
Mr Anderson’s GoFundMe page can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/depher-community-support-services