Fighting the cost-of-living crisis across the UK

21 April 2023

With the United Kingdom battling its toughest cost-of-living crisis for many decades, it’s no surprise that the poor and disadvantaged have been hit the hardest.

Mother and sleeping baby chatting to another mum in church hall

All over the country, a punishing wave of inflation has seen the cost of essentials like food, housing, clothing, and gas and electricity soar to the point of unaffordability for many people.

To make matters worse, it has come against a backdrop of isolation and ill-health caused by Covid lockdown policies and long-term joblessness.

It’s a perfect storm, but it’s in the toughest of times that churches up and down the country have come together to help others.

In September last year, in partnership with the ChurchWorks Commission and other charities, the Warm Welcome Campaign was born.

The scheme turned thousands of church buildings into warm, comfortable spaces where people could escape the winter chill and make new friends over tea and biscuits, or a proper meal.

Part of the funding for the project came from Benefact Trust, which owns Ecclesiastical, and which donated a total of £100,000 to Warm Welcome, both to kick start the initiative and to help churches in poorer areas where funding was a struggle.

It was a resounding success.

More than 2500 churches, faith and community groups across many denominations got involved – despite research carried out by Ecclesiastical Insurance, the Bible Society and other partners showing that many churches were themselves struggling to pay their staff, heating and lighting bills just as their services were needed more than ever.

Here are just two brief case studies.

Walkhampton, Devon

The response of those who live in the Devon village of Walkhampton is typical.

Members of the congregation of St Mary the Virgin have joined other local people in running a Thursday evening warm space in the village’s Memorial Hall.

‘As with others all over the country, we wanted to give people somewhere warm where there would be a hot meal waiting,’ said the Ven Nick Shutt, Archdeacon of Plymouth, who lives in Walkhampton and helped to organise and run the evenings. ‘Although houses are expensive down here, incomes are often not very high, and there’s genuine rural poverty, especially among some of our older residents.

‘But it has been just as important as a place for people to socialise. As with many similar places, a lot of folk drive out of the village to work and drive back in the evening, and – certainly in the winter months – may not see much of their neighbours. The Thursday evenings – which averaged thirty to thirty-five attending, and were as high as fifty – helped in that way. It made us all more neighbourly, and was of great benefit to locals in that way.’

Alongside the food and fellowship, different entertainment was put on every evening – with special attention given to helping three Ukrainian refugee families to settle in.

‘As well as things like a folk singer night, karaoke, and an evening with a magician, we’ve tried hard to make the Ukrainian families feel at home by serving dishes from their country and celebrating the Ukrainian Christmas on its traditional date, January 6,’ said Nick, who is hosting a refugee family with his wife.

‘The response form the village has been wonderful, and it hasn’t just been a church thing – non-churchgoers have got involved, and people generally have been very committed to making it work. Alongside assistance from Benefact Trust and the Church Urban Fund, our local civil parish council, Burrator Parish Council, have been very keen to support it and have helped with the funding.

‘It’s been a great success and after a short break in the spring we’re going to be turning our thoughts to starting up again in the autumn.’

Shipley, West Yorkshire

In West Yorkshire, St Peter’s Church in Shipley set up a Friday Warm Space which has seen as many as seventy local people pop in for soup or an occasional stew at a given session.

‘We started in October, running between 10.30am and 2pm, and the response has been amazing,’ said church administrator Kerry Milwain.

‘We are lucky to live in a lovely community where everyone is happy to pull together. Our local greengrocer, The Orange Grove, has provided all the vegetables free of charge, and a nearby bakery, Melvyn Davis, has done the same with bread. Alongside the national funding from groups like Benefact Trust, Bradford City Council has also helped with funding, and we’ve had people handing in little donations to the church itself. And we’ve had students from Shipley College come along every week, gaining catering experience in helping giving up their time to help with preparing and serving the food.

‘But it’s not just about the warmth and the food – it’s about helping people to socialise. Loneliness is a real problem, and it only got worse during the pandemic, with all the lockdowns – we still have a few people who are still frightened to come back to church, even now.

‘The Warm Space initiative gave people from all generations a place to meet and get to know each other. You’ll see young mums from the mother and carer group chatting to elderly folk and widowers, and some real friendships have developed. My own mum has made a friend through it, so I know from her experience that it has really helped with her loneliness.’

As spring approached, the church and its volunteers were taking a well-earned three week break, before reopening as a ‘Welcome Space’ for the warmer months and beyond.

‘It’s been fantastic,’ said Kerry. ‘We’ve all got so much out of it and we’re looking at how to do even more going forward.’