It is one of the enduring features of British life that the inevitable changing of the seasons still somehow manages to catch us all by surprise, as the blazing hot sunshine of early September seemingly transforms overnight to cold, dark evenings and rain that chills the bones. For most of us this change causes only mild discomfort – an extra layer, an umbrella in the bag just in case. But for a substantial proportion of Brits the onset of Autumn brings with it a dread over what the next few months will hold.
For millions of people the Cost of Living Crisis has now become the New Normal, but as temperatures start to drop the prospect of heating bills rising makes staying afloat financially seem like an unachievable challenge. Yes energy bills have dropped from the unprecedented heights of last winter, but this year will see no relief from Government support, and in the meantime rampant food inflation has made household shops harder and harder to afford. Little wonder that the Trussell Trust have reported that half of working families on Universal Credit ran out of food in the last month.
In the face of these colossal challenges, a quiet army is once again assembling to face off against Britain’s ever-deepening poverty crisis. Their weapons are endless cups of tea and words of welcome, and they will do battle in church halls, libraries, community centres and thousands of other venues in every community across the country. They are the Warm Spaces.
Faced with the biggest Cost of Living Crisis in 70 years, over 7000 Warm Spaces emerged last winter as part of the Warm Welcome Campaign, and between them they received almost 2.5 million visits. As well as supporting people materially, these Warm Spaces had an enormous positive impact on loneliness and isolation, as people came for the warmth but stayed for the welcome.
Now in its second year, the Warm Welcome Campaign is ready to come back bigger and better than before. As well as providing an online map for people to find their nearest Warm Space, the Campaign has developed a partnership with Rotary to help spaces find and develop volunteers. Warm Welcome is also working with Crowdfunder to raise money so that local groups can keep their own lights and heating on, as well as being able to afford the activities which help reduce any stigma associated with attending.
For some people, the re-emergence of Warm Spaces this winter will mark another depressing step in the UK’s ever-weakening safety net. But Campaign Director David Barclay is keen to stress that Warm Welcome Spaces have some key differences from other, more transactional forms of emergency support. “The key thing about Warm Welcome Spaces is that they are places of dignity. You don’t go there as a ‘service user’, you go there as a guest or a member, and as people get involved and get to know people they often end up becoming volunteers and hosts themselves. People help each other in Warm Welcome Spaces, and that sense of agency is crucial.”
Whilst acknowledging that Warm Spaces point to a need for structural change, Barclay is hopeful that they can be much more than a ‘sticking plaster’ solution. “Last winter we saw Warm Spaces working together in places to engage Local Authorities and others on the biggest issues that their guests were facing. Through building power together, they were able to find solutions to issues like damp and mould in people’s homes. That sense of collective power and movement building points to the long-term potential of Warm Welcome. We need big change in this country, but that change will never occur without sustained and organised pressure from below, which our network of thousands of Warm Spaces can play a significant part in.”
The Warm Welcome Campaign launches for this winter on 4th October, with the online map set to go live from 29th October to the end of March. To find out more about the campaign or to register your local Warm Space, go to warmwelcome.uk.