A CHRISTMAS appeal is aiming to raise £20,000 to help Oxfordshire’s vulnerable residents survive the cold weather after 340 winter-related deaths last year.

Oxfordshire Community Foundation has launched its fifth Surviving Winter appeal to raise funds for residents struggling through the colder months.

It comes after 340 ‘excess winter deaths’ were recorded in the county between December 2012 and March 2013, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The campaign has received support from Oxford East MP Andrew Smith, who said he will donate to the cause to help prevent unnecessary deaths this winter.

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He added: “There are 7,000 households now in fuel poverty in Oxford, forced to choose between eating and heating, and each one needs support.

“There are a lot of people feeling the financial pressure in Oxfordshire. It’s obviously critical that people are given the support and assistance that they need, especially if we hit really cold weather.

“I think that, especially at Christmas time, it’s a time when you all need to pull together and especially to help the most vulnerable.”

Oxfordshire Community Foundation is looking to raise £20,000 to support individuals in need and projects across the county. The foundation’s marketing officer Kate Parrinder explained: “Some of the groups we are working with, and give money to, are doing things like helping people claim benefits they did not know they were able to claim, which would help them with their winter fuel bills.

“Lots of groups we fund are going into people’s homes and checking people are well and have enough food to eat.”

Last year, 20 causes in the county were funded through the Suriving Winter campaign including community cafes, good neighbour schemes and senior citizens’ club.

Charity Age UK Oxfordshire received funding which supported its Generation Games project. It provides services for over-50s across the county to increase their physical activity levels, including over-50s Zumba Gold sessions at Bicester Health and Wellbeing Centre.

Mother-of-two and grandmother-of-three Isobel Gorman, who attends the zumba classes, said: “I think it’s excellent because these sort of things keep you going. It’s really worthwhile.”

The Leys Community Development Initiative’s Clockhouse Project, for the over-50s in Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys, received £1,000 last year from the appeal.

The cash was used to continue the project’s weekly services from craft workshops, sports sessions and a gardening club to a board games club and advice sessions.

Project development worker Sally Meachim, from Headington, said: “If they weren’t coming to things here, a lot of people say they would just be sitting at home on their own, watching the telly, with nothing to do. And that’s such a shame because people have so much to give, so much life in them.

The national campaign is organised by Community Foundations across the country.

Residents are said to be facing fuel poverty if paying to heat their home would cause them to fall below the poverty line.

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