Words by Ed King / Pics by Bianca Parvuceanu
As the cost-of-living crisis makes the coming cold months even harder for people, Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library have become part of the city’s official ‘warm welcome spaces’ – providing free to access heated facilities across winter.
Open between 9am to 9pm on weekdays, and 10am to 4pm on Saturdays, the indoor ‘warm banks’ not only offer a heated place for families to come to, but also work stations, computer access, hot drinks, baby changing areas, and ‘children’s play equipment’.
One of 26 current official outlets across Birmingham, the citywide initiative has commandeered libraries, community hubs, and sports centres, to provide a warm support network over winter – spearheaded by Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Community Safety and Equalities.
As energy prices reach record highs, and people across the country are forced to decide between basic essentials – often represented by the choice between ‘food or heat’ – the Council led support programme has committed to providing ‘places you can use and visit during the winter period and beyond.’
Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library are run by Spitfire Advice and Support Service (SASS), whose Chief Officer, Ray Goodwin, is also the elected Labour Party Councillor for Castle Vale.
SASS have always had publicly accessible ‘warm spaces’ at both Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library, alongside their other community support programmes – such as food distribution and financial advice services.
Now part of the citywide initiative, Cllr Goodwin hopes to reach more people across the Vale and offer a more robust support service – whist ensuring the growing post-Covid problems and those caused by the cost of living crisis are not ‘normalised’.
Cllr Goodwin told Erdington Local: “The ‘welcome warm spaces’ initiative is probably one of the most important initiatives in this city.
“It’s not only going to provide a space for people to stay warm, and make sure they can meet their friends and socially interact – and combat social isolation, but quite frankly it’s going to stop people dying.
“For us this is a really important step to help during the cost of living crisis, which will protect both people and communities.”
Spearheaded by Cllr John Cotton (Glebe Farm and Tile Cross, Labour), Birmingham’s ‘warm welcome spaces’ initiative is a Council led answer to the nationwide dangers many will face during the cold months.
In a recent article in the Guardian, announcing the introduction of the scheme and published the day after Liz Truss took over as Prime Minister, Cllr Cotton was quick to put the onus of responsibility squarely on the steps of No10.
In the final paragraph, Cllr Cotton warns the erstwhile PM: “unless you tackle this crisis with the same urgency and focus that we approached the pandemic, you will see people dying in their own homes this winter. The choice, Prime Minister, is yours. For all our sakes, make the right one.”
Now Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister, Cllr Cotton has an equally unflinching message for the country’s new Conservative Leader and top politician.
He told Erdington Local: “Mr Sunak and his party have been in power for 12 years. The fact that we are now having to build a network of ‘warm welcome spaces’ to keep Brummies warm and safe this winter is a damning indictment of their decade of economic failure and mismanagement.
“People in our city need help now with meeting the rocketing costs of heating their homes, putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head. What they don’t need are more cuts to public services, or a refusal to ensure their pensions and benefits keep up with spiralling inflation.
“Birmingham’s Labour Council will do everything in its power to keep people warm and safe this winter. But the Government needs to act – and act fast – to avoid their cost of living crisis turning into a disaster for many people in our city.”
At the time of writing, Birmingham has 26 ‘warm welcome spaces’ recognised by the Council, growing from an initial eight when launched – with more businesses and organisations being invited to join the scheme.
St Martin’s Social Care Project at St Martin’s Church are also part of the initiative, but again only open to over 50’s on Tuesdays between 10am to 1pm.
The new community hub from Foundations 4 the Future, opening in Central Square later this month, has also pledged to offer a warm open space for local families, alongside the outreach work they do to support young people and challenge youth violence.
For more on the ‘warm welcome space’ at Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/directory_record/418843/spitfire_advice_and_support_service
For more on Spitfire Advice and Support Services visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk