What can we learn from the Warm Hubs experience about how to create ‘relational spaces’? And how can this learning, combined with the learning from the community response to the covid pandemic, inform and inspire a bottom up, relationship centred approach to supporting our most hard pressed communities?

In this blog, we reflect on the learning from our latest Relational Councils convening and invite you to join our next session on 12th July 2023 on learning from crisis.

On 16th May 2023, a subset of the Relational Councils Network came together to draw out learning from the community response to the cost of living crisis. We were joined by David Barclay from the Good Faith Partnership who stewarded the Warm Welcome Campaign. Set up in September 2022, Warm Welcome supported 7,000 local organisations to open their doors to their community who were in need of a safe, warm, welcoming and free space over the winter. 

David shared highlights from the recent evaluation of Warm Welcome which you can read in more detail here.

‘They came for the warmth but stayed for the connection’

Whilst the initial draw was the offer of a warm space and savings on energy bills, the warm spaces evaluation found that “the meeting is as important as the heating”. The movement tapped into the post pandemic desire to regroup physically and had a striking impact on self-reported feelings of loneliness. 

Almost 40 percent of respondents to the evaluation reported ‘often’ or ‘always’ feeling lonely before going to a warm welcome space. This fell to just over six percent after visiting a space

Warm Welcome Evaluation

But the messaging and framing of warm spaces was most effective where the emphasis on social connection was subtle. Those in which there was something akin to ‘the permission of snow’ had better turnouts. Framing warm centres around community meals, after school clubs or other activities both helped reduce stigma around visiting and gave visitors ‘permission’ to connect’. 

We noticed similar themes in the stories shared by Active Neighbours who helped out at the height of the Covid pandemic. 

People appreciated the food [that was delivered to their doorstep] but they valued the connection

Active Neighbours Field Guide

When there’s not a national crisis and clear call to action it can be much harder to see what your role in your community is and how you can help

The Moment We Noticed

How can we reframe warm spaces so they’re not just a response to a crisis but framed around values and opportunities?

How do we create a narrative around the benefits and importance of social infrastructure and strong communities in the good times as well as the bad? 

What’s the ‘permission of snow’ that brings us together in the good times? 

Strong communities are built in the good times. Non-crisis activity creates reserves of willingness and reciprocity that will hold us together when the next storm hits

The Sense of Connection

Butterfly in a jam jar 

Back in the Summer of 2020 when we were reflecting on community responses to the Covid pandemic we noted:

Trying to catch and preserve the spirit of the 10 million [people who offered support to others in their community] with systems and structures is like trying to catch a butterfly in a jam jar – there is a likelihood that we kill or damage that which makes it beautiful

The Moment We Noticed

Striking the right balance of structure and flexibility was similarly important to the success of the Warm Centres movement. Light touch branding and media coverage gave participating organisations visibility and a feeling of belonging to something bigger (74% of spaces registered with Warm Welcome because they wanted to be part of something bigger). But the bar the entry was kept deliberately low: warm, free at the point of entry, safe and welcoming were the only criteria for membership. 

Coordination was important, but worked best at a local level. Where a coordinator opened up channels of communication between local warm spaces, there was a wider spread of availability in opening times and activities. 

And where local authorities embraced a supportive, enabling role, new possibilities emerged.

In Birmingham, warm centres are beginning to be thought of as the ‘new normal’ and an opportunity to meet residents ‘where they’re at’ to provide more joined up support. 

Back in 2020, we asked how we might create an ‘enabling ecology’ in which strong, local relationships can thrive. Appropriate statecraft, in style and substance, must be at the heart of this ecology.

There’s still a long way to go, but the Warm Centres movement, like the mutual aid response, has furthered learning about how local authorities can work effectively with voluntary sector partners and residents to put relationships at the heart of how we live together. 

Learning from crisis

Our next Relational Councils convening will be on 12th July, 12.30 – 2pm (Zoom). We’ll be hearing from Professor Kate Cochrane, Head of Resilience at NHS Highlands, and Paul Morrison, who led the government’s Homes For Ukraine programme. We’ll be exploring how top down, bottom up approaches play out on the ground, how they converge, and how we apply the lessons now.

Further reading

  1. We came for the warmth and stayed for the connection’. A brief summary of early evaluation findings from Warm Spaces: 
  2. Warm Welcome Impact Evaluation. The full findings 
  3. How to care for Warm Welcome Volunteers? Some provocations from our work around the Covid response
  4. The Sense of Connection. Reframing resilience as relational
  5. Social Infrastructure in two minutes’. The British Academy on what we mean by social infrastructure