Building an inclusive movement of warm spaces across the UK

February 2024
Emeka Forbes
Warm Welcome Space at East Ham Library

Warm Welcome started with a simple mission – to mobilise a network of warm and welcoming local spaces for people struggling to heat their homes. 

Thousands of spaces signed up. Churches, libraries, gyms, mosques. Every space was different, but a common thread of warmth and a commitment to supporting their communities bound them together. 

Since then, we’ve grown into a much broader movement, with a vision for a revival of grassroots community infrastructure – where people of all cultures, backgrounds, faiths, and from all walks of life can come together in their communities. 

As we work towards this mission, we’ve challenged ourselves to think critically about what it really means to build an inclusive movement, and how we can better equip independent spaces in communities across the country to support the needs of diverse local populations. 

We’re realistic about the scale of this challenge. Recent years have seen an unravelling of community cohesion across the country – with deep divides emerging across our society. This has led to a rise in people having to face adversity, including poverty, alone – without the support of a strong community. 

But this trend is reversible. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw the emergence of mutual aid groups – communities mobilising to offer a helping hand to those in need. 

There’s no single one size fits all solution to bridge divides and provide a lifeline to those experiencing poverty, but as we seek to strengthen an already powerful network of community spaces offering a warm welcome in communities across the UK, we know that bold steps to ensure this network is truly inclusive are vital. 

Our approach

At the outset of our campaign this year, we began to look closely at the data – including participation and awareness levels across the UK population and different demographic groups last year, as well as data on poverty across the country from organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 

Using this data, we began to define a set of target inclusion groups – specific population segments who we know have a high level of need, and who were underrepresented in terms of participation in warm welcome spaces last year. 

These groups are single parent families, parents with three or more children, people living with disabilities, and Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black population groups in the UK. 

As we work to reach these groups – raising awareness and removing barriers to participation, we’ve engaged with a wide range of partners with relevant expertise to develop collaborative initiatives and to help us develop a deep collective understanding of what works. 

Geographic access: One major barrier we identified was the lack of warm spaces within a reasonable geographic distance for people in some parts of the country. Towards resolving this, we recently confirmed a partnership with University College London, who have funded a research project with the university’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis to map warm space provision in relation to population density within our target inclusion groups. This means we will soon have the ability to see clearly where gaps exist in provision, enabling us to target support to these locations and work more intensively with local groups to support the launch of new warm welcome spaces. 

Awareness: Another barrier to inclusion is that some groups simply don’t know about warm spaces. Our data tells us that the most common way people hear about warm welcome spaces is through friends and family members – which implies that people who may be more isolated may not know about the support that is available to them. Alongside broader efforts to raise awareness by sharing high quality social media content and securing high profile national and regional media coverage, we’ve also started to target smaller and more targeted media outlets which have high engagement with our target inclusion groups. As we continue to develop this strand of our inclusion strategy, we’ll use nationally representative polling on awareness and participation to track impact over time. 

Guidance for spaces: Finally, many warm welcome spaces have looked to us for guidance about how they can support diverse populations in their local communities, welcoming people from a wide range of backgrounds in a way that gives people a sense of belonging. We’ve produced detailed guidance for spaces, including specific tips and things to consider – but we also know that many spaces themselves and our wider partners already have significant expertise. For this reason, we’re creating an inclusion cluster – a small group of spaces and partners which will meet to discuss inclusion challenges and share best practices around reaching and engaging different communities. 

Next steps

Taken together, these steps will create a vital foundation for the future of our campaign – equipping us with the tools and resources to drive a truly inclusive and impactful network. We’re incredibly excited about what comes next, and we’re open to learning from partners and seeking as much feedback as possible as we go forward. 

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be sharing a series of blog posts including updates on our inclusion focused work – as well as examples of inclusion good practice from spaces across the country. 

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