Warm Spots offer a critical lifeline

25th January 2024

As energy bills soar, Cumbrians are turning to community ‘Warm Spots’ to escape the cold, socialise and save money on their heating bills.

The centres are providing a lifeline for many struggling to heat their homes. And visitors like the members of Carlisle United’s walking football clubs, can also find friendship, advice and hot food.

Warm Spots have been set up in venues like village halls, community centres, churches and parish rooms thanks to special grants which help cover the costs of energy bills, venue hire, additional staff time, or light refreshments for visitors.

The initiative, run by Cumbria Community Foundation, Cumberland Council and Westmorland & Furness Council, has awarded more than £27,000 to over 50 charitable community organisations across Cumbria.

Carlisle United Community Sports Trust used its grant of £500 to expand its weekly Walking Football clubs for over 50s, offering hot drinks and snacks after sessions, plus advice on budgeting, smart metres and how to save on utility bills.

Assistant manager Teresa Mulholland, said: “Many are widowers, so these chats give a social side that helps prevent loneliness and foster meaningful connections within the group.”

In Workington, Age UK West Cumbria transformed their charity shop into a full-time Warm Hub thanks to a grant from Cumbria Community Foundation this year. Locals can stop for hot drinks, games and company.

“A lot of people asked if we could continue with it because they wanted a space, even in the summer, not necessarily as a warm hub, but as a socialising space,” said CEO Jane Mindar.

“The funding has helped cover the cost of the basics and allowed us to do a bit more.

“It’s not just going to a place to keep warm. It’s going to a place to meet people or just to relax. But at the same time, it means that they can switch the heating off at home, perhaps for a couple of hours.”

Aspatria Dreamscheme is another Warm Spot. They use their grant to open a community space every Wednesday which offers soup, drinks and cake and helps local people including the elderly to keep warm and avoid loneliness and isolation.

In the village of Staveley, the community hall has served as a vital warm refuge on Tuesdays and Thursdays for elderly residents struggling with loneliness over the winter months. This is the second year the venue has been able to offer a Warm Spot after receiving an additional £500 of funding this year. Weekly sessions have allowed locals to bond over hot drinks and games, make new friends, and have a chat. Attendance has grown.

Samuel James Boyd Gilmore, one of the volunteers, said: “This year, we’ve attracted some new folks as well as folk with disabilities who are even more isolated at home.

In Barrow-in-Furness, a £500 grant from the Warm Spots Fund has enabled the not-for-profit organisation, Friends of Bram to reinforce and expand support services to vulnerable community members. Provisions like food parcels have ensured struggling people and families have access to essentials each week.

Their space operates an open-door policy to offer a warm, judgement-free environment.

Community Development Worker Dave Morrison said: “They come down for a chat and to talk over their issues. They’re finding that useful as it is. Many simply enjoy coming for a hot drink and coming into a warm space while they don’t have to heat their own homes..

“We found through conversations that some people were really struggling with the cost of living.

“We heard about a gentleman who was sleeping in his car overnight because it was cheaper to heat his car than it was to sleep in the house.”

Jenny Benson, Director of Programmes and Partnerships at the Foundation, said: “The Warm Spots Fund has been crucial in enabling community venues to open their doors to local people so they can escape the cold and meet and chat while saving on their heating bills at home.

“The cost of living and high energy prices are really making things tough for many Cumbrians. The Warm Spots are a critical lifeline for our communities during difficult times.”

Applications to the Warm Spots Fund can be submitted at any time and groups should hear the outcome of their application within 10 working days.

To apply for funding, click here or contact Tracy Cheesbrough tracy@cumbriafoundation.org or on 01900 825760.