At the time of writing, much of Yorkshire is hidden under a blanket of snow, and temperatures look set to plummet even further before the month is out. But while some of us get excited by the prospect of days off from work, snowball flights, and bracing walks through the frost, this time of year can be a cause of great distress to many — particularly the estimated 3.26 million households living in fuel poverty in England today.
As things get back to normal after the festive season, the sad fact is that many people will have to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table this winter. In response, groups such as the End Fuel Poverty Coalition have been tirelessly campaigning to secure everybody’s right to a warm, dry home. But in the meantime, an eclectic mix of religious spaces, community centres, schools, libraries, and cafes have been opening their doors to provide their communities with a free space to warm up and shelter from the cold.
Last year, as the cost of living crisis saw even more people struggling to heat their homes, the Warm Welcome Spaces project emerged to shine a light in the dark. A collective response to the harsh realities of fuel poverty, the project aims to build towards a fairer and friendlier society by facilitating warm and welcome spaces in communities across the UK.
In the months since, the project has grown to incorporate some 7,000 spaces providing shelter, comfort, and friendship to approximately 500,000 people. As well as a welcome opportunity to come in from the cold, each space offers basic refreshments and signposting to additional services so that vulnerable individuals can access further help if needed. And best of all, they are available to everyone completely free of charge.
And the Warm Welcome Spaces team aren’t the only ones working to provide everyone with a safe, warm place to wait out the colder months. In Hull, Ideal Heating have partnered with Hull City Council to offer the Affordable Warmth and Energy Saving Community Grants scheme, providing grants of up to £12,000 to organisations looking to set up their own warm spaces in the community.
In a statement released last year, Ideal Heating’s Stevie Spinks explained, “With the cost of living creating challenges and pressures for many families and individuals, this scheme is a perfect example of public and private sectors combining to tackle a very real issue which is affecting so many people.”
Thanks to the grant, dozens of groups across Hull and East Yorkshire have been able to offer a warm space to those in need — including our friends at Marfleet Community Centre, where Hull and East Riding TimeBank is based. And it’s not all about sheltering from the elements, either. At Marfleet, visitors are welcome to simply relax with some refreshments and get warm. But if they’re interested in engaging, there is a whole program of community-focused events, workshops, and activities to partake in.
The space is open to all on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11am - 3pm, as well as from 6.30pm - 8pm on Thursdays and 10-12 on Fridays. Activities include a zero waste cafe on Tuesday mornings, a free community meal on Thursday evenings, and regular food clubs, clothing repair cafes, wellbeing activities, crafting sessions, and more. Visitors can also find out more about the Hull and East Riding TimeBank and how we’re working to build a better future via a system of reciprocal exchange.
In a similar vein, other organisations are using their warm spaces as a springboard to offer a wide array of support services, providing everything from counselling services to warm clothing and advice on energy bills.
Of course, the fact that warm spaces are needed at all highlights some of the gravest issues surrounding inequality that we are facing in Britain today. But it’s heartwarming to see community services across Yorkshire and the whole of the UK stepping up to ensure that everyone has at least some respite from the unrelenting cold.