Britain: ‘Warm hubs’ are springing up in Britain to beat rising energy costs – Times of India

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON: On a stormy late winter day in Shakespeare’s birthplace, the foyer of the Other Place theater is a cozy retreat. Visitors meet over coffee, check e-mails, write poetry, learn to sew.
It looks and feels like an artsy pub in the picturesque streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, but it’s a ‘warm hub’ set up by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s drama troupe to welcome those struggling to leave their homes. heating due to sky-high energy prices.
Hot hubs have sprouted across Britain by the thousands this winter as rising food and energy prices prompt millions to turn down the thermostat or cut back on hot meals. Research by the opposition Labor Party counted nearly 13,000 such hubs, funded by a mix of charities, community groups and the government and nestled in libraries, churches, community centers and even a tea room on King Charles III’s Highgrove estate.
Wendy Freeman, a seventh-generation artist, writer, and Stratfordian, heard about the warm hub of the RSC from a friend. She lives in “a small house with no central heating” and relies on a coal fire for warmth. Like many, she cut back in response to the cost-of-living crisis triggered by the highest inflation since the 1980s.
“Just adjust,” said 69-year-old Freeman, who used the center as a warm, quiet place to work on a poem. “Little things like putting less water in the kettle. I was raised on ‘save the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves’. I always cook from scratch and eat what’s in season.
“But it’s nice to go to a warm place,” she added.
A perfect storm of Russia’s war in Ukraine, ongoing pandemic disruption and economic aftershocks of Brexit puts more people in Britain under financial pressure. Households and businesses were particularly hard hit after the Russian invasion of Ukraine drove up the cost of natural gas for heating and pushed the UK into the precipice of recession.
Annual inflation in the UK was just over 10% in January, while food prices rose by nearly 17% over the year. According to the Office for National Statistics, about 62% of adults use less natural gas or electricity to save money. A quarter of households regularly run out of money for essential things, surveyor Survation discovered.
Although oil and natural gas prices have fallen from last year’s peaks, the average UK household energy bill is still double what it was a year ago. Costs for many will rise another 20% on April 1, when a government-set price cap goes up.
Anna Bolger, a retired math teacher, came by the warm hub one day while walking and has returned every week since. She drops by to check emails, prepare for math tutoring, or do a jigsaw puzzle.
“Today is the day I appreciate it because it’s freezing at home,” she said.
The hub runs one afternoon a week in the smallest of the RSC’s three theatres. On Tuesday there was a mix of theater staff, actors on their way to rehearsals and visitors looking for warmth. Organizers provide puzzles, games, toys for kids, free tea, coffee and wifi – even a sewing table.
“I like that it’s such a creative space,” says Bolger, 66. “People have meetings there, they talk, they work. I just feel a little more alive than sitting at home, a little more connected.”
That’s exactly what the organizers want to hear. They say warm hubs exist to alleviate loneliness and energy poverty.
“The warmth is in both the welcome and a warm building,” says Nicola Salmon, who oversees the hub as the RSC’s creative placemaking manager. “There’s always someone here to chat with.”
Stratford, about 100 miles northwest of London, is a prosperous city that thrives on William Shakespeare, his most famous son. Even on a wintry weekday, tourists stroll the streets of half-timbered Tudor-style houses to see the bard’s birthplace, visit the schoolroom where he studied, and stand over his tomb in the medieval Holy Trinity Church.
The RSC is one of Stratford’s major cultural attractions and employers. Zalm says the warm hub is part of the company’s effort to get closer to the surrounding community, a city that is “often seen as affluent and affluent” but contains “deprived areas.”
Like Britain’s food banks – now numbering an estimated 2,500 – warm hubs are a crisis measure that is showing signs of becoming permanent.
The Warwickshire Rural Community Council, a charity that covers the county around Stratford, set up a mobile warm hub – a minibus turned pop-up terrace – in 2021 as pandemic restrictions left many rural residents in isolation.
A year ago, the charity was running five hubs across the county, with support from Cadent, the private company that distributes much of Britain’s heating gas. As winter hit and utility bills spiraled, the number swelled to 90, with everything from meals to repair workshops and slow-cooking courses designed to reduce gas consumption.
About 30 of the hubs will remain open this summer – with a view to becoming permanent – and the mobile hub will be on the road five days a week.
“People say we shouldn’t be in this situation, and we shouldn’t be,” said Jackie Holcroft, the charity’s warm hubs manager. “But we are. And I think one of the most amazing things is that you have hundreds, thousands of volunteers in Warwickshire and they all come together to make a difference.”
The RSC hot room closes at the end of March, but the company is already making plans for its return next year.
“I will miss it like crazy,” said Bolger, one of the regulars. “I hope the fuel crisis doesn’t last forever, but I hope this place stays open.”

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