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Churches continue to offer warm spaces as UK temperatures drop

08 December 2022

The Warm Welcome campaign has already registered more than 4000 organisations

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A GROWING number of churches and cathedrals are offering their buildings as part of the Warm Welcome initiative in response to the energy crisis. Many are offering hot drinks and activities, as well as a place to sit in warm surroundings to save on energy bills at home (News, 18 November).

The campaign, initiated by the Churchworks Commission, in partnership with churches and community groups, has already registered more than 4000 organisations.

There is a particularly high level of activity in the Church in Wales, manifested in the Archbishop’s Food and Fuel campaign. The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, said: “It is challenging to discover that even in the fifth richest economy in the world, we are having to come to terms with real and biting issues of poverty.

“I’m impressed by the practical response that churches, volunteers, and partner organisations are making, but I hope that our politicians are also committed to the relief of poverty as a priority.” The diocese has invested £7500 to buy equipment such as microwaves, soup kettles, and refrigerators for the two warm hubs that it is setting up in partnership with a social enterprise group in Shotton, Can-cook/Well-fed.

The Warmer Winter Wednesdays initiative in St Cadfan’s, Tywyn, was triggered by an observation, some years ago, of groups of elderly people sitting in the reading room of a library, armed with flasks of coffee and tea and clearly there for the day, demonstrating that the problem may now be more acute, but is not new.

Difficulties are particularly felt in Llandaff, which covers six of the ten most deprived areas in Wales. Half the working-age adults are out of work, and are likely to be disproportionately affected by the cost-of-living and energy-price rises this winter. The diocese has created a “toolkit” to help more churches and community groups to set up warm spaces in their buildings.

DIOCESE OF LLANDAFFThe Taff Rhymney Warm Space, in St John the Baptist, Nelson, Caerphilly, last month

At a minimum, it believes that a warm space should be free, heated, and able at the very least to provide basic warm refreshments and snacks, with more substantial meals available where possible. It should be inclusive and non-judgemental, safe and hygienic, and open at least once a week, with regular opening times that do not change on a weekly basis.

The Benefact Trust has this week allocated £500,000 in funding to relieving the impact of the cost-of-living crisis in the UK and in Ireland. Grants of £275,000 are being distributed immediately to the Trussell Trust, which supports more than 1300 foodbank centres in the UK, and to Depaul UK and Depaul Ireland, Vincentian charities that provide housing and support services for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

The director of the Benefact Trust, Lesley King-Lewis, said, “There are so many people who are understandably worried for their future, and are having to choose between buying food for their families and keeping the heating on. We simply can’t stand by and do nothing.

“The last year has seen double-figure inflation, and that impacts all of us, but for the poorest ten per cent of households, the impact of inflation is significantly higher. That’s because families on low incomes have to spend a much greater proportion of their income on food and energy.” The Trust will be announcing a further £225,000 allocation of funds in the near future.

In Lancashire, 2000 clergy and church officers have received an update on resources for parishes, from highlighting grants currently available to providing practical help and advice in relation to their churches’ own energy bills. The Acting Bishop of Blackburn, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, has told clergy and parishioners: “Our first priority must be reaching out to meet the needs of those who are suffering most. I encourage our parishes to live out Jesus’s message of hope and respond with positive action to help their communities at this time.”

Chichester Cathedral, whose own energy bill is set to rise from £30,000 a year to £200,000, is offering a warm space for people who are struggling with their energy bills at home, and is also setting up new collection points in the building for the Chichester and district foodbank, aiming to bring in more than 250kg of donations.

The Chancellor, Canon Daniel Inman, said that the vision of the cathedral was “seeking to build a community in love, compassion, and hospitality — encouraging others to step out in faith and hope. We have enjoyed a long relationship with the foodbank, and invite others to join us in building up those who are in crisis.”

Lichfield Cathedral has been offering its Warm Welcome since mid-November, joining with other venues to provide a safe space for people to meet and get free hot drinks and biscuits. It is part of Places of Welcome, a network of safe places, and also of a local initiative supported by Lichfield District Council to offer places to anyone wishing to keep warm, find local information, and socialise with others in the community.

The rising cost of living will be raised at the General Synod meeting in February. Canon Rachel Mann will ask the Archbishops’ Council to what extent the Church Commissioners have considered making targeted grant provision to help with the unavoidable extra energy costs for clergy and family members who are disabled with chronic pain, and who rely on warmth to manage it.

In a written reply, the chair of the Finance Committee, John Spence, has referred to the £3-million ministry hardship grant, announced in May, under which all dioceses receive a share of this funding to allocate to clergy and lay workers considered likely to face significant hardship as a result of high inflation, and the significant increases in energy costs in particular.

The dioceses have maximum flexibility in the targeting of those funds, and can choose to use some of it to supplement hardship, he emphasises. Commenting on Tuesday, Mr Spence said: “The £3 million will be fully deployed, but this is not the total of the support available.

“Many dioceses have funds which they can access, and a further £15 million has been given from national church funds to dioceses for distribution to parishes, chaplaincies, etc. to help them cope with increasing energy costs. We would hope this support might also enhance financial flexibility to help priests and other ministers in times of difficulty.

“We can never say that any sum will be enough, as we cannot know the full scale of individual challenges across the many thousands who serve their worshipping communities and the wider community.”

In a written reply to another cost-of-living question, to be asked by Luke Appleton in February, the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson, says that the national minimum stipend should in future, on average, increase in line with inflation, subject to three-yearly reviews and the need to review this position if high levels of inflation establish themselves.

“We are mindful of the challenges clergy face given the rising cost of living, and the intention remains to maintain the value of the clergy stipend in the medium term, although this is ultimately dependent on the giving of parishioners,” he writes.

“However, the current high levels of inflation, and the significant financial challenges that many dioceses are continuing to face, mean that an increase in line with current inflation is unlikely next year.”

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