As host of Cheshire’s Community Buildings Network, Cheshire Community Action has stepped up to the plate to help extend the network of ‘warm hubs’ by working with Cheshire West Voluntary Action and the Councils in Cheshire West and Cheshire East.
Cheshire local authorities along with many others across the country are opening public buildings such as libraries, museums and council-run community centres to provide ‘warm welcoming spaces’ where people can meet, socialise, get a hot drink or meal, use the free wifi and get advice and support with cost of living challenges.
Many of us will have read about ‘warm hubs’ or ‘warm banks’ in the media in recent months, which can conger up images of people (who can’t afford to heat their own homes) being huddled into public buildings to keep out of the cold. We all understand the need for media to grab attention and sensationalise aspects of the cost of living crisis. But, when we’re talking about poverty, it’s also important to remember that dignity and respect for individuals are foundations on which any help and support should be offered to people who are struggling.
I am pleased to report that the partners working together in Cheshire all agree on this principle. However, it is a sad state of affairs is it not, that we are even having conversations about providing buildings where people can go to ‘keep warm’ in 2022. When speaking to local authority officers who run libraries, charity sector partners or those in our network of community buildings, there is a common theme: ‘We were already doing this’, or ‘planning on doing this’, but, ‘we’ve never called it a ‘warm hub’. In other words, providing a warm welcome to people is nothing new.
Some village and community halls in our network, particularly in the rural areas have already fed back some of their plans to provide regular gatherings for local people. Village Halls have a history of providing a place of refuge in times of emergency such as snow, flood and fire, and enforced closures during lockdowns were a new challenge for the precious army of volunteers who run them. Not to mention the almost immeasurable impact of enforced isolation on mental health. In wartime, communities came together in village and community halls for civil defence and entertainment, to make jam, clothing and even electronic components for Bletchley Park (Gordon Welchmann in Breaking the Enigma Codes).
Bringing people together to socialise, connect, share skills and resources is also what drives the recent ‘warm hubs’ initiative. And through this process, yes, it will give people a place to stay warm. But in many ways this is a ‘by-product’ of bringing people back together within their communities, and providing a space for re-connection and sharing knowledge where people can help each other out of a cost of living crisis following a tumultuous two and a half years.
Cheshire Community Action will work with partners to do everything it can to enable community venues to respond to local needs accordingly. We recognise there is likely to be a range of ‘offers’ in each different community and venue e.g. Information that can help save on heating bills at home, find out about other council and voluntary services, or even pick up a discreet food parcel on their way out.
Existing coffee mornings, community cafes, lunch clubs and many types of community gathering could potentially become the setting for a ‘warm hub’. The main difference now is that multiple partners are engaged and finally community buildings are getting the attention (and hopefully followed with the support) they need to do what they do best – responding to community needs.
It is not too late to fill in our Community Buildings Cost of Living Survey if you haven’t already.
The ASDA Foundation is offering grants that are intended to deal specifically with the cost of living crisis. This grant of up to £2000 is to enable local community groups meet the demand for “Warm Spaces” for those struggling, or for providing meals and other resources. Click here to find out more.
For advice on how to save energy in your community building click here
For information about the Energy Bills Relief Scheme click here
To join the Community Buildings Network and benefit from our membership services click here
To find out more about Cheshire Community Action’s involvement with Warm Hubs, please contact John Heselwood: firstname.lastname@example.org