Fife entrepreneur (87) on a mission to end fuel poverty

Donald is promoting the stoves (Photo: George McLuskie)
Donald is promoting the stoves (Photo: George McLuskie)

An 87-year-old entrepreneur who almost died from pneumonia is pioneering a scheme that he says is the answer to fuel poverty.

Ex-soldier Donald Barker contracted the illness after spending the winter in the cold farmhouse outside Auchtermuchty that he calls home.

He was rushed to hospital unable to breathe and was told he may only have days to live.

But the plucky octogenarian rallied and during his recovery came up with an idea that he believes will drastically reduce the number of deaths that are caused each winter by the cold.

Donald is due to attend the Fife Vintage Agricultural Club’s farming heritage show and rally at Kilmaron, Cupar, next Sunday, June 4, to demonstrate the revolutionary wood-burning frontier stoves that he says are the key to eliminating fuel poverty.

He’s trying to persuade the Scottish Government to support his scheme, whereby the £200 annual heating allowance given to pensioners would be used to pay back the cost of the stoves.

Donald has set up Instant Heat Ltd, and has taken delivery of a consignment of stoves from Cornwall.

He says they can be used for both cooking and heating, fuelled by just a modest amount of wood.

“The stoves throw out a tremendous amount of heat with just a few sticks,” he said.

“They cost virtually nothing to run and can be moved from room to room.

“Around 800 people die each winter in Scotland because of the cold and that’s a scandal.

“If I can save even one or two pensioners from the ordeal that I suffered, it would give me a great deal of personal satisfaction.”

Donald has oil-fired central heating in his home, which he says would cost him thousands to use.

He was sleeping in an unheated bedroom when he contracted pneumonia and at one point was so ill that he even arranged his own funeral.

“During my recovery I had time to think,” he said.

“I had seen the stoves in use in disaster areas and realised they could be the way to eliminate fuel poverty.”

In April, the Scottish Government launched a £30 million loan scheme offering householders interest-free loans of up to £15,000 to install measures such as wall and roof insulation, draught-proofing and new boilers.

But Donald believes the money would be better spent on his project, which would involve the heating allowance being used to repay the £1000 cost of the stove.

“I believe my scheme is the quickest and cheapest way to help the most vulnerable,” he said.

“After all, you can’t warm your hands on a roll of insulation.”