Warm spaces and warmer welcomes 


Listen to Sr Silvana Dallanegra talk about Caritas Westminster and the Warm Spaces initiative on Radio Maria: 

This winter saw the opening of ‘Warm Spaces’ in twenty parishes and three project centres from across the diocese, with the aim of supporting individuals and families who are struggling to heat their homes.  

Alongside providing refreshments and hot meals to members of the local community, some centres also hosted activities such as slow-cooker classes and information sessions on debt and energy use.  

Beyond vital practical support, the Warm Spaces were a much-needed source of companionship to local residents, as at the parish of St Bartholomew in St Albans where asylum seekers from several countries came together to cook. Throughout the Diocese, the Warm Spaces enabled people from across cultures and generations to make friends, help each other and participate in group activities, as well as celebrating everything from Christmas to a birthday. 

Sr Silvana Dallanegra, who oversaw Caritas Westminster’s support for the initiative, observed: 

“The needs being met aren’t only for physical warmth, but for the warmth which comes from companionship and good company. It’s so lovely that this is happening again after the worst of COVID.” 

Fr Richard Nesbitt from a parish in White City told us how their centre provided a safe and creative space for families from a variety of faiths and cultures: 

Last Tuesday, a Syrian father was teaching his two young sons to play chess on one table, while at the next table a Ukrainian family were preparing pancake fillings with an Italian family. At another table, the parish priest was playing dominoes with a Muslim mother and daughter, and all this to the joyful background noise of primary school children playing their own version of football in the main part of the hall! There wasn’t a mobile phone in sight!  

We also heard a heart-warming testimony from Wood Green SVP:

Glen,* a parishioner and wheelchair user, has come every week, regardless of the weather. His journey is not easy as he has quite a distance to travel by bus, but every Wednesday, shortly after opening time, he is there. Glen says he enjoys the company and that his Warm Space visit gives him a focus for his day. Ian* joined us on our third week. He was just passing, saw the sign and popped in. At first, he was very reserved, but now he joins in with things, and keeps a quiet eye on Glen. Our volunteers gain a lot from the sessions too; they enjoy the company and learn from the others who come to the Warm Space.

[*names have been changed to protect identities] 

Most of the parishes involved have received a small grant from Caritas, to help with heating, refreshments and other costs associated with their Warm Space. Fr Howard James from Bow explained what a huge difference this made to his parish: 

I had been using my own resources to make parish lunches on Fridays in Lent. When Lent ended, I told my parishioners we would do it again in Lent 2023… so you can imagine the joy when, thanks to your donation, we were able to start up again four months early! Everyone was grateful: the ‘warmers,’ many of whom live alone, got to spend time together, and it strengthens my ministry to see people at ease and happy together. 

Our Lady of the Rosary in Staines also took part in the initiative, registering their existing Gresham Junction community café as a Warm Space. Fr Philip Dyer-Perry noted:

Guests are eager to invite not just friends but others who they feel would benefit from spending time here. At first, we mainly attracted elderly parishioners, but the net has spread wider and wider, with a great cross-section of the local community dropping in. Our effective and highly-motivated team of coordinators ensures that the sessions run well, including during school holiday times when everything else tends to stop.  

While the Warm Space initiative began as a means of helping people through the cold winter, it has revealed a much broader need for companionship and hospitality in every season. Several parishes expressed a wish to continue offering a space for coming together — a testament to the immense value and impact of community-run projects of this kind.

One of our Warm Spaces featured on the American News programme CBS Mornings — click here to watch.

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