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A few years ago, we were in London where we eventually headed a few hundred kilometers north to visit Ideal Boiler’s factory. Somewhere along our travels on Tube or train, we picked up a newspaper and read about James Anderson, a “big-hearted” plumber from the town of Burnley, Lancashire, who gained internet fame when a bill for one of his jobs went viral.
Anderson made a service call to a 91-year-old woman suffering from leukemia. The charge for fixing her boiler: zero.
What’s more, on the bill Anderson wrote: “No charge for this lady under any circumstances. We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible.”
The woman’s daughter, Christine Rowlands, originally shared a picture of the bill on her Facebook page, which was liked hundreds of thousands of time.
Soon afterward, media companies throughout the UK and the US wanted to know more about Anderson.
According to a CNN report, Rowlands described Anderson as an "angel dressed as a plumber."
She told the news network that she came across him when her mother's boiler broke, and they needed it fixed at a reduced cost.
"James is an absolute star, it was overwhelming to see that it cost nothing," she told CNN.
As it turns out, this is how Anderson operates. He’s been running DEPHER, which stands for Disabled & Elderly Plumbing and Heating Emergency Repair, as a not-for-profit plumbing company ever since he was called to a home in 2017 for a second opinion on a heating repair that could have cost the elderly home owner more than it needed to be.
"It got me thinking about other elderly and vulnerable people — we need to do something more to help the people who need it most," Anderson told the BBC. "A lot of elderly and disabled people don't like asking for assistance and if they can't afford something like fixing the boiler, they might not do it and get into trouble. We are there to take that worry away."
Anderson pledged to help disabled and elderly people with their plumbing and heating “whatever the cost.”
Since its start, DEPHER has helped nearly 17,000 families through free or heavily discounted plumbing and heating works.
“Our main aim is to help the elderly, those over 65, and customers registered as disabled,” Anderson emailed us recently. “But since COVID hit, we have also helped hundreds of low income families affected by COVID, with free plumbing works, food banks, gas and electricity top ups and discounted handy man services within their homes.”
Anderson also reported that DEPHER offered discounted work for frontline workers, such as police and hospital workers, and supplied masks, hand sanitizer and gloves to those in need, too.
“We get calls on a daily basis from people who are struggling, maybe through ill health, financial worries or old age,” Anderson wrote. “One of our recent stories involved installing a free boiler for an elderly gentleman who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We put his story out to the public and we received a substantial amount of donations to cover the cost of the boiler.”
Anderson says DEPHER doesn’t receive any government funding, and relies on donations to DEPHER’s GoFundMe drives.
“The reaction from people has been so humbling and emotional for me,” he wrote.
At the moment Anderson says he’s building the funds back up for winter.
“But we are still carrying out free repairs for customers who are in dire need financially,” he added. “This is on a need-by-need basis as funds are still low although we are receiving donations from the public on a daily basis.”
Anderson works with two other plumbers to get the work done. He also has an informal network of other tradespeople to provide service throughout his home base of Lancashire, plus Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham and parts of Scotland. He’s keen to recruit more plumbers throughout the UK.
Anderson works long days and puts most of his spare time into DEPHER. Recently he has been building a community garden where people can come rest or plant a flower to remember loved ones they have lost through COVID-19.
In recognition of his work, Anderson was honored as part of the Prime Minister’s Points of Light program for his work done during the pandemic and also received a local COVID Hero award, too. If that weren’t recognition enough, a letter from Queen Elizabeth II thanked him for his good works.
“DEPHER has gone from strength to strength since it was established in 2017,” Anderson wrote. “We have hit a few rocky patches along the way, but, fortunately, we are all a good team that work together so we are able to pull through.”
You can read about Anderson’s efforts to help on his Facebook page (bit.ly/3zHvsIT) To donate to DEPHER, go to bit.ly/3zBhJn0.
This feature is part of our Plumbers Giving Back series, sponsored by the the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO).
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