Warm spaces and warmer welcomes 


Listen to Sr Silvana Dallanegra talk about Caritas Westminster and the Warm Spaces, on Radio Maria on 15 March 2023: 

This winter, twenty parishes and three projects from across the Diocese – from various parts of East, West and North London, Herts and Spelthorne – have been running ‘Warm Spaces’ in their centres. These are open to members of the local community, and offer refreshments, and, in some cases, a hot meal.  

The aim of these Warm Spaces has been to support people who are finding it hard to afford to heat their homes all day. In some, extra activities are provided such as slow cooker classes, or sessions with debt and energy advice. In reality though, the Warm Spaces are offering much more than simply practical help.  

In the parish of St Bartholomew, St Albans, asylum seekers from different cultures came together to cook soup, and this type of companionship has been repeated across the diocese. People have come together across cultures and generations, cooking, making friends, helping each other, celebrating Christmas and at least one birthday. 

Sr Silvana Dallanegra, who has been managing Caritas Westminster’s support for these warm spaces, said: 

“It seems as though the needs being met aren’t only for physical warmth, but for the warmth which comes from companionship and good company. And it’s so lovely that this is happening, and able to happen again, after the worst of Covid.” 

Fr Richard Nesbitt from White City told us how their warm space has provided a safe and creative space for a variety of young families: 

Last Tuesday a local Syrian father was teaching his two young sons to play chess on one table, while a Ukrainian family were preparing a variety of pancake fillings with an Italian family on the next table, while the parish priest was playing dominoes with a Muslim mother and daughter at another table! All to the joyful background noise of an ecstatic group of children aged 5-8 playing their own version of football in the main part of the hall! There wasn’t a mobile phone or other device in sight!  

While from Wood Green SVP, we heard how: 

‘Glen’, a parishioner and a 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 much from the sessions too; they enjoy good company and learn from all the others who come to the Warm Space. [names have been changed to protect identities] 

Most of the parishes have received a small grant from Caritas, to go towards the heating, refreshments and other costs associated with their warm space. Fr Howard James from Bow explained what a huge difference this money has made: 

When we got the grant from Caritas we were grateful. I had been using my own resources to make soup for parish lunches on Fridays in Lent… when Lent ended I told them that we would do it again in Lent 2023… So, imagine the joy when through your donation we were able to start again, four months early! Everyone was grateful, and the joy of being with people is good. The ‘warmers’ get to spend time together – many of them live alone.  And it strengthens my ministry to see people at ease and happy to be with each other. 

Our Lady of the Rosary in Staines is a parish which has extended an existing social activity – in their case, their Gresham Junction community café, now registered as a warm space. According to Fr Philip Dyer-Perry:

A very lovely thing about ‘Gresham Junction’ is that guests are eager to invite not just friends, but others who they feel would benefit from spending time here. At first, we attracted elderly parishioners, but the net has spread wider and wider – with a great cross-section of the local community dropping in. It is mostly senior citizens, but everyone is clearly welcome to visit – and many do. An effective and highly motivated team of coordinators means the sessions run well – including during school holiday times when everything else tends to stop.  

The Warm Space initiative began as a means of helping people, many of them already struggling financially, get through a cold winter. However, as we inch our way towards spring, and the need for physical warmth lessens, the need for human warmth and hospitality continues. Some parishes are already saying they are keen to continue offering this space, as a time for socialising and building up the community. Warm Spaces, born out of an urgent physical need, may yet leave a very positive legacy.  

One of our Warm Spaces recently featured on an American News programme, CBS Mornings – click here to watch.

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