Warm Welcome and the Power to Make Change

June 2024

Warm Welcome Campaign Director David Barclay reflects on the experiences of community organising with Warm Welcome Spaces.

In St Paul’s Cathedral, 1,000 voices fell silent as Shafraz quietly stepped up to the microphone. His voice echoed around the ancient walls as he told his story – of how he and his family had fled political persecution to come to the UK, of how they had lived in a hotel in East London for over a year with no cooking facilities or social space, of how one day a letter had come through from the company running the hotel announcing their relocation within a week to an unspecified destination.

What kept them going throughout these trials were local Warm Welcome Spaces and the hospitality and friendship they found there – homework clubs for their children, opportunities to cook and share food from back home, and when the chips were down solidarity in protesting the injustice of their rushed removal.


Warm Welcome Spaces emerged as a crisis response to spiralling energy bills in 2022, and from the start their potential as an opportunity to build people power has been one of their most intriguing features. Bringing together all kinds of community spaces – churches, libraries, community centres, sports clubs and many more – in a 4,000-strong network across the UK, Warm Welcome has the potential to unlock significant collective power on the issues facing guests and hosts alike.


After a first winter of experimentation with community organising practices in Warm Welcome Spaces, Shafraz’s story gives us the strongest glimpse yet as to what this could look like. Over this last winter a small team of community organisers working for Citizens UK and the Centre for Theology & Community have been working with Warm Welcome Spaces in East London.


They have been helping local leaders involved in these warm spaces understand and implement some of the basics of community organising – how to build relational rather than transactional spaces, how to listen for people’s stories and bring them together to identify shared issues, how to turn that listening into action. They have also been sharing these lessons more widely across the Warm Welcome network through a series of webinars and digital drop-ins.


And so, when the letters dropped into Shafraz and hundreds of others’ rooms in the hotel in Walthamstow, this network of community spaces sprang into action. Within a couple of days, a public action had been planned outside the hotel, with over 100 people from all different backgrounds standing and singing together in defiance of the inhumane treatment of the residents.


The action caught the imagination of the press, with coverage on the BBC and ITV. A meeting was arranged with the company running the hotel and a set of reasonable requests were put forward. Two major victories were won – the process of moving people from the hotel was slowed down significantly, and none of the residents were moved outside of London, allowing them to maintain the community links and social networks they had developed.

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