Britain’s public libraries to offer ‘warm banks’ this winter

Britain’s public libraries to offer ‘warm banks’ this winter

Libraries to offer heat, help and hope this winter

by Suswati Basu
1 comment

As winter approaches, most public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are gearing up to provide much-needed warm banks, companionship, and support to those who are hit hardest by the ever-mounting cost-of-living crisis. In these trying times, the concept of “warm spaces” is gaining momentum as a lifeline for communities, offering a haven where people can seek refuge from the cold while fostering a sense of unity and hope. The genesis of this movement can be traced back to last year when energy prices skyrocketed due to the conflict in Ukraine, leaving many struggling to keep their homes warm.

Britain's public libraries to offer warm banks this winter
Britain’s public libraries to offer warm banks this winter. Credit: Suswati Basu.

What is a warm bank in the UK?

In the UK, a warm bank serves as a secure and inviting refuge for individuals facing challenges in heating their homes due to financial constraints. These establishments are typically managed by local councils, charitable organisations, and community groups, often finding their homes within public facilities like libraries, community centres, and churches.

The surge in the cost of living has led to a growing popularity of warm banks in recent years. With many people finding it increasingly difficult to afford heating expenses, the winter of 2022-2023 saw the emergence of over 7,000 warm banks across the UK. 

Warm banks offer a range of essential services, including a comfortable space to relax and unwind, the provision of hot beverages and snacks, guidance on energy conservation and financial assistance, as well as a diverse array of activities and events catering to both children and adults. Some warm banks even extend their services to include amenities such as showers, laundry facilities, and computer access.

For those struggling to keep warm during the winter months, warm banks stand as a crucial lifeline. They offer not just a physical haven but also a warm and welcoming atmosphere where people can seek warmth, find assistance, and connect with their community.

The rise of warm spaces: libraries answer the call

A recent survey of library professionals conducted by Libraries Connected revealed that an overwhelming 93% of respondents expressed their intention to participate in formal warm spaces schemes. These much-needed sanctuaries will start opening later this month, coinciding with the clocks going back and the onset of chillier weather.

However, warm spaces are not just about providing a heated environment; they are a comprehensive effort to bolster community well-being. Among the library services participating in the warm spaces initiative, a remarkable 74% will be hosting entertainment and cultural activities to keep spirits high. Meanwhile, 70% will generously offer free hot beverages, and 66% will organize advice sessions to assist visitors with practical matters such as household budgeting. Moreover, libraries are stepping up their game by distributing free warm clothing, blankets, sanitary products, and even operating food banks.

While energy prices have dipped somewhat, 79% of the survey respondents anticipated that the demand for warm spaces would either remain the same or increase compared to last year, with no one expecting a decline in demand. This underscores the ongoing economic challenges faced by individuals and families across the nation.

Midlothian Council in Scotland explained warm spaces and support will be provided for locals during this cost-of-living crisis, in addition to this video explainer.

Some Scottish libraries are also offering ‘warm banks’ this winter.

More than just a cosy corner

Libraries Connected is a dedicated partner of the Warm Welcome Campaign, which oversees a network of over 7,000 warm spaces spread across the United Kingdom. An analysis conducted by the Warm Welcome Campaign in May of this year revealed that over half a million people accessed these warm spaces during the previous winter, highlighting their critical importance.

“Once again, our libraries are proving themselves to be a vital community resource.”

Isobel Hunter, Libraries Connected CEO

Isobel Hunter, the Chief Executive of Libraries Connected, expressed the significance of libraries in these trying times, stating, “With temperatures dropping, and the price of essentials continuing to rise, it is a sad fact that many people will again be wondering how they will heat their homes this winter. Libraries will be there to offer a warm space and a warm welcome – not only to those who are struggling to pay their energy bills but anyone who’s looking for company, conversation, or advice. And that’s on top of all the wonderful things libraries do every single day, for free. Once again, our libraries are proving themselves to be a vital community resource.”

Read: Cost of living crisis’ impact on publishing industry – authors lose out

David Barclay, the Director of the Warm Welcome Campaign, expressed his optimism about the coming winter, saying, “I was genuinely shocked and delighted at just how many libraries got involved in the Warm Welcome Campaign last winter, and how creative they were in serving their communities and providing places of connection and belonging.”

“My hope for this winter is that through engaging in Warm Welcome, libraries up and down the country can demonstrate what a crucial piece of our social infrastructure they truly are and can receive the recognition and support they so richly deserve.”

David Barclay, Warm Welcome Campaign Director

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has backed the initiative as well, saying “We want [Warm Welcome Spaces] to step up this winter, providing more spaces, helping more people, offering more sustained support, in more areas of the country.”

Consequently, as winter creeps in and economic challenges persist, public libraries are once again stepping up to offer more than just books; they are offering warmth, community, and a helping hand to those in need. In these uncertain times, the warm spaces initiative embodies the resilience of communities coming together, proving the essential role that libraries play as vital community resources.

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1 comment

UK cost of living crisis: 'a million children do not own books' - How To Be Books November 29, 2023 - 11:52 am

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