In August 2022, as news of energy price hikes were announced, we put a call out to community buildings, churches, pubs, cafes and libraries in Suffolk to ask if they would consider offering a Warm Space to their local residents during the winter months.

We mapped every space that we could find in Suffolk (over 300 across the county by the time winter arrived) on our Rural Coffee Caravan website map, to create an interactive resource where people could easily locate their nearest place to share warmth, a free cuppa, and often a free or discounted meal, through the coldest months. Somewhere to use the facilities without having to worry about the bill, to access signposting information for support where needed, and crucially, to be socially connected for a few hours on a regular basis.

Screengrab of RCC Warm Spaces map
Working with local councils, Suffolk Libraries, and with the help of Communities Together East Anglia in putting together Warm Spaces Welcome Packs, the Rural Coffee Caravan was able to help distribute support information and resources amongst the network of Suffolk spaces so that family hubs, village pubs, care homes and many local coffee mornings, clubs and groups could make this information available to members of their local community.
Sharing feedback we’d gathered from the spaces, in a group ‘forum’ via a Facebook page, organisers and volunteers had a facility to gauge how others were managing their Warm Spaces; share ideas, and ask questions to each other. Via contact with organisers and volunteers, we were also able to locate recipients for slow cookers from our Winter Appeal. Our community engagement team staff were able to drop in to various spaces across the county and offer signposting or mental health support where needed.
The Warm Welcome campaign reported a network of over 4,200 warm spaces popping up across the UK over winter.  The Guardian notes in an article that more than 500,000 people across the UK visited warm rooms over the winter, and found, as we also did here in Suffolk, that though many of those visiting them were grateful for the respite from financial struggle; warmth, free refreshments, wi-fi and activities, it was providing respite from loneliness which seemed to become the biggest benefit of these spaces.
We have been delighted to welcome twenty new members to our c-a-f-e (coffee and friends events) network as a result of groups and clubs either forming to continue offering these opportunities for connection to their local residents, or as a result of their existing event wanting to remain in contact with us. Many of these existing groups mention growing and attracting new visitors due to their promotion as a Warm Space.
As winter finally moved on, and with Suffolk County Council’s help, we were able to thank and acknowledge a multitude of volunteers across the county who had helped to run or organise these spaces, awarding them with a Suffolk Says Thank You enamelled badge. Suffolk’s contribution of 310 spaces was considerable, and an indication of how caring a county we are, with so many volunteers willing to offer their time to support the more vulnerable members of their communities.
We learned much that can be used to inform next winter’s potential community support spaces, including how renaming them to focus more on the welcome and social aspects can help to reduce stigma which may have held some visitors back from taking up their local offers. Is your community thinking about setting up a Warm Welcome space this coming winter? We’d love to hear about your thoughts and plans. Email us to tell us about them.