More councils looking at ‘warm banks’ to support vulnerable residents amid rising energy bills

More councils have signalled using churches, community centres and libraries as so-called ‘warm banks’ for people unable to afford to heat their homes this winter.

Birmingham, which is England’s biggest council serving 1.14 million people, has become the latest announcing measures either providing or sign-posting the hubs, by pledging to “map out spaces across the city where people can go to keep warm”.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England, said while local authorities were doing “all they can”, ‘warm banks’ were “not alternatives” to providing householders with “adequate resources” to make heating their homes affordable.

The Government has said it will continue to “make sure that people have got the resources to heat their own home”.

It comes as the average householder’s yearly energy bill is set to rise from October to £3,549.

Other councils including Southend, in Essex, Sheffield, in Yorkshire, and several in Nottinghamshire have already started mulling similar plans for either setting up, supporting or highlighting the locations of ‘warm banks’.

Although the idea of such spaces is not new, their existence was brought to a wider audience by consumer rights campaigner Martin Lewis (pictured), earlier this year.

In a tweet to to his 1.7 million followers in July, he said: “Can’t believe I’m writing this, but I wonder if this winter well need ‘warm banks’ the equivalent of ‘food banks’ where people who can’t afford heating are invited to spend their days at no cost with heating (eg libraries, public buildings)?”

Replying to Mr Lewis’s tweet, Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees said the city was “actively organising a city-wide network of warm places – we call them “Welcoming Places” – for Bristol”.

Since then, it has also emerged councils across Scotland including Glasgow and Aberdeen have been considering setting up ‘warm banks’ by opening up public buildings, as first reported in the Daily Record.

Meanwhile in Birmingham, Cllr John Cotton, cabinet member at the Labour-run local authority, said: “Keeping warm will be a huge challenge for so many people, with the price of using domestic heating spiralling.

“We are going to work with partners to map out spaces across the city where people can go to keep warm.

“Whether that’s local community centres, places of worship or libraries, we want to help people to find places where they will be welcomed, free of charge.”

He added: “It should not be the case that people cannot afford to keep their homes warm, but that is the reality that we are facing here in Birmingham.”

Cllr Andrew Western, chair of the LGA’s resources board, said: “Councils and local partners will continue to do all they can to protect those on the lowest incomes against the rising costs of fuel, food, transport and other essentials.

“As we enter the forthcoming winter months, councils are taking practical steps to support people in their community who need it the most.

“These include the development of warm hubs in some areas as well other important initiatives that are aimed at both addressing immediate hardship and building longer-term financial resilience and wellbeing.”

He added: “Although councils are doing all they can to help residents, these schemes are not alternatives to ensuring people can afford to heat their homes through the winter months.

“The mainstream welfare system should ensure people have sufficient means to meet true living costs and councils and local partners need adequate resources to provide targeted and effective crisis support alongside services which increase opportunity and lift people out of poverty for good.”

Asked about plans for so-called ‘warm banks’ in libraries, community centres and art galleries, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) minister Matt Warman told LBC Radio: “Those are initiatives put forward by local councils that are for them.

“What the Government has to do and has done up to this point and will continue to do in the future is make sure that people have got the resources to heat their own homes.

“Those initiatives that are put forward, I think, will be welcome to some people. Of course they will be.

“But what the Government is doing and will continue to do is focusing on giving people the resources they need in their own homes, rather than having to leave them.”

He added: “Welcome though these initiatives might be for some people, they’re not going to be the only option.

“They shouldn’t be the only option… I’m confident that the package of help that’s there and the package of help… (from the next prime minister) will make real progress in that regard.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Kirsty O’Connor / PA.