Over 3000 Warm Welcome Spaces are open across the United Kingdom offering warm drinks and a warm welcome at a time in which soaring inflation and the energy crisis are exacerbating poverty and exclusion.
By Linda Bordoni
As temperatures plummet, the current cost-of-living crisis in Europe has a severe impact on millions of people across the continent who may not be able to afford to heat their homes.
In the United Kingdom alone, an estimated 16.4 million people find themselves in “fuel poverty”, and despite the Government’s energy announcement, the hardest hit are people with disabilities, elderly people, children, people from ethnic minorities and low-income households.
Warm Welcome Spaces is a blossoming initiative that sees a network of community organizations, churches, libraries, businesses and other faith groups opening their doors to provide solace, solidarity, support.
There are 12 Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Plymouth (which include Devon, Cornwall and Dorset), that are offering community warm spaces with more to come.
One Warm Space that has opened its doors is that of the Church of the Most Precious Blood in Sidmouth, Devon, where the parish’s pastoral assistant, Naomi Hogg, told Vatican Radio more about this initiative, which she says, is built on solidarity and care for the other.
Explaining that the Church of the Most Precious Blood has a hall that was already used for different classes during the week, Naomi said the parish decided to join the Warm Welcome Spaces initiative and found ways and volunteers to be able to open up “a couple of spots for anybody to come into the space and enjoy a hot cup of tea, coffee, other hot drinks, biscuits, cake and also soup and a roll.”
A place of encounter
Apart from a chat and a comfortable, warm and safe space, she added, the church also offers people the possibility to play table games, read newspapers or simply “to socialise and be among people.”
Asked who is coming to the Warm Space, Naomi said they are seeing more and more “regulars” as the initiative has been running for a few weeks. Many, she explained are people who are living on their own. Many she continued “ are people we haven’t met before, and they come to us, have a chat, and most of them stay for the full two hours. What is interesting, she noted, those who are coming do not belong to the church’s regular community.
“The idea,” she explained, “is that we’re actually engaging with the people who wouldn’t normally come into our homes, who wouldn’t know who we are.”
Naomi underscored the fact that the Warm Welcome Space at Sidmouth’s Church of the Most Precious Blood is open to people of all creeds, and that no spiritual advice or counselling is offered unless it is clearly asked for.
“I think that’s important just to be alongside, and journey with people and hear their stories,” she said.
An ongoing gift
Asked whether she has a particular story to tell, Naomi spoke of a refugee family that was welcomed to town two years ago “in the depth of the pandemic.”
Since then, she recounted, the family has become so integrated that “the mom, Khadijah, is actually going to be helping us at the Warm Spaces with a craft table in the New Year: she’s going to be showing people how to make peace lilies.”
Of course, in the run-up to Christmas, the hall has been decorated and volunteers are making sure those who come to the Warm Space are offered mince pies and Christmas crackers.
But, Naomi said, as a community, apart from the Warm Spaces, the staff and volunteers are also involved in an ecumenical initiative called “Love Christmas” in collaboration with the Food Bank, the Rotary Club and the Salvation Army.
Naomi reflected on the fact that besides the “monetary poverty” so many people are experiencing, there is a widespread “poverty of loneliness, low levels of self-esteem: a different sort of poverty”.
She said the Warm Space at the Church of the Most Precious Blood is doing its best to offer those people “the best welcome that they can possibly have, a place where they can come to where there’s love, care and the simplicity of welcome.”
Open a Warm Space
Naomi wholeheartedly encourages anyone – any community – to go ahead and open a Warm Space.
She said there is help and support as well as funding available through the Town Council. The website to go to is warmwelcome.uk.