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UK Libraries turn into 'warm banks' to provide heating and hot beverages for free amid energy crisis

The cost of rising energy prices is taking a huge toll on the underprivileged during this chilly winter.

UK Libraries turn into 'warm banks' to provide heating and hot beverages for free amid energy crisis
Cover Image Source: Getty Images/LAW Ho Ming

We have finally entered the season of winter and as we prepare for the holidays, there are many who are struggling to keep themselves and their loved ones warm. The ongoing cost of living rising crisis has made it difficult for many to afford heat and other necessities during the chilling winters. However, libraries across the United Kingdom have come up with a solution to help those in need during this season of giving. They're turning into "warm banks" or places where individuals can escape the cold during the winter.

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Many libraries already operate as de facto community hubs for underprivileged populations in their localities. In preparation for increased demand in winter, they are now providing free clothing, hot beverages or soups, hygiene supplies, and other items, reports Smithsonian Magazine. Mandy Grimwood, manager of the Gainsborough Community Library in Suffolk told The Guardian: "No one's going to come if it's just a warm space. You wouldn't want to say: 'I'm going there to keep warm,' because of the stigma. We're totally nonjudgmental. Anyone can come in and do anything they like. We're not going to say: 'Shh—this is a library.'"

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According to Grimwood, a "warm bank" is intended to be a friendly, welcoming atmosphere that invites people to stay. The objective is for people to come in for more typical services, such as free Wi-Fi, phone charging stations, or computer usage, and then linger long enough to enjoy a free hot drink in a comfortable environment. According to one mother, she brought her daughter to the Gainsborough Community Library—which handed out free 30 winter coats last month—to avoid the damp and mold spreading through their house.

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Many libraries and non-profit groups began arranging these services months ago, anticipating higher demand this year. While libraries rely on volunteers and contributions to construct these spaces, they frequently wind up bearing additional expenditures. In a September survey of library officials in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, conducted by the nonprofit Libraries Connected, 60 percent indicated they were contemplating establishing a warm bank, but just 4 percent expected more funds to assist the initiative. According to another Libraries Connected study, 80 percent of library leaders anticipate an increase in people utilizing libraries to stay warm this winter. 

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U.K.-based financial journalist Martin Lewis first posted about warm banks in July 2022. "Can't believe I'm writing this, but I wonder if this winter we'll 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 (e.g. libraries, public buildings)," he tweeted. Later, he asked the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) to publish A Warm Welcome, a guide for libraries and communities interested in establishing their own warm banks. The document contains best practices for setup, safety, financial planning, cleanliness, disability assistance, hosting and other topics.

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Jason Baldry, an IT developer, designed an interactive warm bank map that lets users zoom in on their towns and cities to see what resources are available. Any location that operates a warm bank can sign up on the site. Baldry told Metro UK, "People started signing up fairly slowly and then word spread. We're over 1,000 listings on the map now and they're still coming in thick and fast."

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