January 27, 2023

As freezing temperatures continue and the cost of living rises, people are turning to “warm banks” for respite.

But for some, they’ve become so essential that the fear of them being closed for Christmas leaves users anxious and concerned.

Warm benches are popping up all over the country, aiming to help people who struggle to heat their homes during the colder months.

Founded by municipalities, community groups and charities, they provide people with a warm welcoming space, often with food and drink.

Carol Morrison regularly visits a local warm bank set up in a South East London library. She said it was a “lifeline” during the cold snap.

“When I’m here it’s like everything disappears, I don’t have to worry about anything,” she told Sky News.

But on most days, the warm shore has to close at 5 p.m., leaving Carol with “nowhere else to go”.

It comes at a time when energy prices have skyrocketed, leaving many people struggling to pay their gas and electricity bills.

Carol cannot heat her house and goes straight to bed most evenings.

“What else? I don’t want to sit in the front room, it’s cold, I’m just lying in bed.”

Carol's local warm bank is located in the library in New Cross, south east London
Image:
Carol’s local warm bank is located in the library in New Cross, south east London

In London, all councils have said they will provide a warm banking arrangement.

But it is inevitable that many who rely on it will have a difficult Christmas and New Year as many warm banks will be closed during the holiday season.

Cold weather takes a physical and mental toll

Carol doesn’t know how she’ll get through the holidays – her local hot bank won’t reopen until the New Year.

The cold weather coupled with the rising cost of living has taken a huge toll on her well-being – her arthritis has intensified.

“My joints seize up, and once my joints seize up, I can barely walk,” she said.

“When it’s cold, my back hurts a lot. The pain is the worst. It’s unbearable.”

Carol and other service users in the warm couch
Image:
Carol and other service users in the warm couch

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She said it also had a huge impact on her mental health.

“It’s depressing. I find myself very isolated, don’t want to talk to people, don’t care, I just feel down.

“I never thought that when you retire, it’s like this. I never thought it would be this bad.”

As we enter the festive season, it will be a fear-filled season for Carol.

All she wants is to be able to stay warm.

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