An IT developer from Norwich has created a website listing warm banks across the UK in an attempt to help people tackle the “desperate” cost-of-living crisis and stay warm this winter.
Jason Baldry, 35, who works as the head of creative and IT for St Thomas’ Church in Norwich, told the PA news agency he set up the website in the summer after growing concerned there was not such a resource available.
Warm banks are places with heating where people can go to keep warm if they are struggling to afford to heat their homes.
In his spare time, Mr Baldry created WarmSpaces.org – a website where anyone running a warm bank across the UK can register and Mr Baldry will add their facility to a map.
“There were these headlines coming out about the cost-of-living crisis and energy prices. We could see that something was on the horizon,” Mr Baldry told PA.
“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.”
“As soon as that temperature dropped we saw a big spike in traffic,” Mr Baldry told PA.
“I’m getting quite a lot of emails from people sort of saying ‘help!’. I was not quite ready for that.
“They’re genuinely just crying out for help saying, ‘I’m on benefits. I can’t afford to heat my house. What do I do?’
“I have to sort of turn around and say this is signposting, I’m sorry. This is loads of different organisations that hopefully are coming together to create this conglomeration of pins on a map.
“And there are other organisations that are specifically helping to resource people running warm spaces.
“The takeaway is I am just getting the tiniest tip of an iceberg of communication from those who just don’t know where to turn next and it’s hard for me to even suggest what to do – it’s a desperate time at the moment.”
“It takes about a minute to fill in the form, maybe not even that,” he said.
“So if they’re running a warm space, they can put the details in there, or the name of it, the time of the week that it runs, time of the day, and then what sort of features are available at the warm space.
“Lots of people offering free food or drink, other places offer device charging. Some places are now starting to talk about showering facilities and laundry facilities, which is cool.
“But also, I was trying to get businesses to sign up where they’re open and it’s warm already … there might not be necessarily a free offering, but there might be that sort of permission for people to just stay a while.
“Lots of places come up with lots of interesting ideas. We’ve got quite a few pubs on there offering sort of pay-it-forward schemes.
“That’s certainly something that the coffee shop here at St Thomas does as well. So people can buy a token for a coffee and then someone can come in and redeem that.”
Mr Baldry was keen to point out that he did not want to normalise warm banks.
“This website shouldn’t have to exist,” he told PA. “We’re the world’s fifth largest economy. It’s an indictment of the government, frankly.
“But I wanted to do something in response, aim some of that discontent with the situation at something productive.
“I think there’s a danger that we go a few winters and energy prices stay as they are and it’s like this is normal. This cannot be normal. This cannot be what we accept.”
“I also felt a conviction that the map is also a response to the climate crisis,” Mr Baldry told PA.
“People sharing warmth in spaces that are already warm. I think there’s a good conversation to be had around that and the sort of community element that we can bring into it.
“But also sometimes it feels like we’re creating a map in response to loneliness, in response to what people might need for their mental health, to gather with people.
“Maybe after all this is done, it might end up being something like that.”