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Two million find a Warm Welcome, report finds

14 June 2024

Warm Welcome/Facebook

Warm Welcome has sparked other initiatives. Holy Trinity, Leytonstone (pictured), runs a community foodshare as well as offering a warm space

Warm Welcome has sparked other initiatives. Holy Trinity, Leytonstone (pictured), runs a community foodshare as well as offering a warm s...

A MOVEMENT born of the energy crisis which offers warm spaces to people who cannot afford to heat their homes “has the potential to positively reshape the social fabric of the UK”, a former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has said.

More than two million people — 120,000 individuals each week — visited a Warm Welcome space during last winter, its annual impact report, published on Wednesday, says. These are described as “free, safe, and welcoming spaces open to all”, but especially for people experiencing loneliness or struggling with the cost of living.

Since the movement was established in 2022 as part of a UK-wide response to the post-pandemic economy (News, 18 November 2022), more than 4000 organisations have joined, including churches and other places of worship, libraries, community centres, cafés, sports centres, businesses, and museums.

These are supported by more than 10,000 volunteers, the report says. It estimates that about five per cent of the general population — 3.2 million people — have used a warm space in the past two years.

In a foreword to the report, Mr Brown writes: “Community spaces were vital not just in keeping people warm but in reconnecting individuals and communities whose lives had become fragmented by poverty and a pandemic. It was about the meeting, not just the heating. It was about warm spaces but also about warm welcomes.”

It is “heartening” that the campaign has continued to bring people together, he says.

Most users of warm spaces (87 per cent) said that their intention had been to connect with others; the same percentage said that attending had improved their mental and emotional well-being; and 84 per cent said that the experience had made them feel a “stronger sense of belonging to their community”.

One guest said: “This space has become the highlight of my week. It is a safe space to talk with others.”

The movement has sparked other initiatives. In Gateshead, Peace of Mind was set up by Sara Muzaffar to be a safe haven for refugees and asylum-seekers in the area. She herself had fled to the UK many years ago to escape a forced marriage.

She said: “To begin with, there was quite a lot of tension. One of the women came to their drop-in session and told a refugee that she was sitting in her seat. . . What started out as a quarrel has turned into joy and a lasting bond. The two women, from very different worlds . . . became firm friends.”

An ongoing challenge for Warm Welcome is the recruitment of volunteers: 38 per cent of spaces were said to be struggling to find regular volunteers. The report encourages partnerships with other organisations, including charities and community groups, to support this.

On a national level, more than 400 Warm Welcome Spaces were supported through the National Grid’s shareholder-funded Community Matters Fund, of which £5 million was made available to alleviate fuel poverty and provide support during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Warm Welcome received £2.7 million.

Smaller grants of £1000, from trusts and foundations, were distributed by Warm Welcome to 164 faith-based spaces across the UK, from Cardiff to Belfast, and from Edinburgh to Plymouth, last winter. One recipient, All Saints’, Blaby, in Leicestershire, said that the grant would “help in keeping the church open during the week for people to receive refreshment and company”.

The report takes comfort in its estimate that most of the UK population (57 per cent) have heard of Warm Welcome Spaces, and that two-thirds (63 per cent) live within a 30-minute walk of one.

Social-media engagement had doubled in the past year.

BBC coverage of the actor Michael Sheen’s visit to the Warm Welcome Space at Port Talbot Library, in his home town, during which he was interviewed by members of the community, received 3.8 million views.

“To have spaces like this where people can come, there’s no stigma, there’s a warm welcome . . . it’s fantastic,” he said.

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