Warm spaces started as a response to the crisis that millions of people across the country faced when suddenly unable to heat their own homes, but we believe the greatest strength of warm spaces in fact lies in the communities that they have fostered.
What a rare accomplishment in today’s digitally constructed world, creating face-to-face micro-communities all over the UK that gather together to support one another.
As a charity that shares similar values of shared community and hospitality, we at Christians Against Poverty (CAP) have been so encouraged to see the incredible impact that warm spaces are delivering in local communities.
CAP provides a number of support services to those experiencing poverty, but one service in particular shares a similar affinity with Warm Welcome Spaces, these are our Life Skills groups. Delivered as an eight week course in small groups, each session is designed to help strengthen those living on a low income through practical tools and advice on key topics such as budgeting, managing gas and electricity bills and maintaining healthy relationships. Life Skills groups create shared learning spaces where individuals are able to lead the way through sharing ideas, experiences, and contributing towards supporting the person next to them with the problems they are facing.
But, like Warm Welcome Spaces, the core strength lies in the communities that are formed by the wonderful people that step through the door.
So how can we connect our warm spaces with other services to strengthen and support the growth of these communities that are forming? We recently chatted with Light & Life Church in St Austell, to talk about their experience of providing a Warm Welcome Space and the benefit they have found in connecting this with a service like Life Skills. Here is what the Life Skills Manager there, Andy Payne, had to say about how these services can complement each other, strengthening both to deliver broader holistic support to a local community, and crucially how we can help people to find a place of belonging.
Why do you run life skills alongside Warm Welcome?
Life skills and Warm Welcome Spaces have a number of shared principles. Both make treating everyone with dignity and respect a high priority. Both of them work hard to establish somewhere that offers a safe, welcoming and non-judgemental space for anyone to walk into. Their services are entirely free - which goes such a long way to creating a sense of hospitality and genuine welcome. For us as a church, we’re always looking for ways to practically show God’s love through how we treat people, and each of these initiatives provide us with an opportunity to demonstrate this.
They why run both, why not just pick one?
Oh because they work brilliantly together. Although they are very similar in their values, they integrate and complement each other really effectively. Through hosting a Warm Welcome Space, we are offering local people a safe and secure place to be throughout the winter. They are welcome to come along as much as they need to. Life skills groups have a slightly different focus. These meetings offer practical advice and support to people who want to take control and improve their situation. How I see it is, Warm Welcome says ‘come as you are’ and life skills says ‘but you don’t have to stay as you are’. Both messages are equally valid and needed.
Which message do people respond to?
Both. Many people who come along to use our Warm Welcome Space just aren’t ready to join life skills; they feel disenfranchised and through previous experience, expect to be told they need to meet a particular criteria, or to be pushed into a programme, in order to continue receiving help - which is something our church does not want to do. The way that I see these two initiatives working together is that Warm Welcome provides that first step, where people can come along to our church and receive care with nothing being expected of them. They can come along to our Warm Welcome and never go on to join life skills. But there are lots of people who want to take the next step, and that is where life skills bridge that gap so brilliantly.
Tell us a bit more about this bridge?
Life skills groups provide a great structure of support to help individuals move forward at their own pace. Our Warm Welcome provides plenty of information to help people, but it can sometimes feel like people are being bombarded with recommendations and signposting and referrals - it can be overwhelming. Our life skills groups set mini goals each week. These manageable tasks are small and attainable, so people feel more of a sense of accomplishment and like they’re getting somewhere each week.
Are there crossovers between these groups?
Certainly. Several people who initially came along to our Warm Welcome Space stayed on for our life skills sessions in the afternoon. Some of the life skills modules - like how to manage your energy bills - were particularly helpful to people who regularly come along to Warm Welcome.
What do you think is the main dilemma that life skills and Warm Welcome both address?
Isolation and loneliness. These are epidemic in our society. Warm Welcome creates just that, a place where people can connect with others. But life skills in particular combat isolation and loneliness so well because it’s whole focus is around a community dynamic. Friendships are formed through habitually meeting with others through sharing a common goal; the meetings allow for fellow participants to contribute and support one another as each person overcomes their particular hurdles and meets their goals. Participants regularly tell us that the most helpful thing that life skills have done for them is to boost their sense of confidence and provide them with an opportunity to interact in social settings again.
“Before joining life skills I was in my house, having bad panic attacks. I wouldn’t talk to anyone and my anxiety was really bad. I hadn’t left my house in two years.” Since the course, Daniel says “I have been doing amazing things.” He joined a gardening team and set up a community garden on his street. “Now everyone who walks along that street is greeted with flourishing flower beds and a lush greenery.” Within a year, Daniel booked and went on a holiday abroad by himself.
What is an advantage of running life skills alongside Warm Welcome?
At life skills, I find that the groups tend to ‘gel’ around the sixth week of meeting (we run eight weeks worth of sessions). People have begun to form friendships, found things in common, and are getting into the habit of supporting one another week-to-week. They’ve often exchanged numbers, set up a WhatsApp group and some have even begun meeting up outside of the sessions! By the end of the eight weeks, the group always asks me, ‘What’s next?’ They want to keep meeting; they want a follow up group or course to join so they can keep the community they’ve formed going. Our Warm Welcome Space is a great place to carry on those relationships - which is a real mix between participants and volunteers - everyone’s got friendly and are part of this mutual support network! And it works both ways. Our partner churches are telling us that running life skills are helping enhance their Warm Welcome Spaces in a similar way.
How does this impact your church?
For us as a church, running the two initiatives alongside each other has helped us integrate local people into the life of our church. The people that come to Warm Welcome and then move on to join life skills, get to grow their network of people they know across the church. If they go on to join the alpha course, they get to know more people. They are forming new friendships, naturally over time from regularly meeting together. It’s wonderful and means they get to broaden their circle of friends and people they can approach for support. It means local people can find a home here, somewhere they belong. For us as a church, this is the most important thing.
“The biggest thing for most people is making a link and having continuity with people and venues. Knowing they will see a familiar face at these community events, or being familiar with the venue is key.”
Jackie, Life Skills Manager in Weymouth & Portland
Explore hosting a life skills group
Find out what a typical life skills group looks like here. If you’re interested in hosting a group (often run through a local church) then you can find out more here.