hoarding 180x120More than 40 partners from the housing sector and compulsive hoarder researchers were hosted by Devon & Somerset FRS as part of the Service's multi-agency approach to raising the profile of compulsive hoarding within homes and the fire safety issues this creates.

The day was facilitated by Jasmine Sleigh from ‘Change your space’ and featured input from University of Bath researchers who've looked at the impact of hoarding in the local area.

In opening the event Sleigh said: “Today is about bringing together agencies that go into people’s homes and identify hoarding issues to speak about the challenges that they face. At the moment 4.7% (three million) of the population hoard in the UK, within Devon and Somerset this amounts to 78,000 people who are hoarders, of these only 5% (3.900) are known to agencies.

“Fire safety issues that arise for hoarders are many and it’s often more the hidden risks that are a fire safety risk, like having potential flammable materials near overloaded plug sockets that might not be working very well and are buried under all the people’s belongings.

“Internal doors that are wedged open by piles of belongings are a problem, if a fire were to break out it would not be contained within the room, therefore easily spreading throughout the home, fuelled by all the piles of clutter. Kitchens are another problem area where belongings become piled up on the cooker. Partners visiting the homes are looking for trigger points where they can see a risk due to the hoarding issue. The next phase is working with the hoarders and seeing if they are willing to move things to reduce that risk? For some it is a lifelong struggle.”

The University of Bath is researching into compulsive hoarding, working with volunteers who have acquired a lot of possessions and feel distressed when throwing things away or hoarding. Their research has found that little is known about the reasons people gather and keep a lot of possessions; individuals often report very positive feelings towards their possessions as well as a number of difficulties that are caused by these possessions. Their study hopes to explore some of the causes and functions of hoarding behaviour and how it impacts on individuals’ relationships, work and social adjustment. The university hope by better understanding the experiences of compulsive hoarding they can design more effective interventions and support.

Alan Coxon, from Community Safety spoke about some of the issues from the Fire Service perspective: “20% of fire deaths are connected to poor housekeeping. When a firefighter deals with a fire in a hoarder’s home full of combustible materials, this presents a variety of challenges of top of the normal fire risks. Cluttered corridors block escape routes as well as making the property hard to access or move through the building.”