Activism

Hot water bottles are being tied to trees to help homeless people stay warm

The Hot Water Bottle Network is using the unusual delivery method to people keep the upcoming winter cold at bay, echoing the Hottie developed by late Big Issue vendor Kevin Headley

Hot Water Bottle Network

Look up in some UK cities and you might expect to see the copper hues of autumn. Now, thanks to grassroots activists, you might also catch a glimpse of hot water bottles hanging from trees.

They’ve been collected by local community groups forming the Hot Water Bottle Network, an initiative originating in Brighton which aims to help rough sleepers and people living in fuel poverty who are “bearing the worst brunt of the cold”.

The hot water bottles are donated by locals and the grassroots groups liaise with nearby businesses to arrange filling stations – places where homeless and vulnerable people know they can use an establishment’s hot water. These businesses also serve as drop-off points for bottle donations. Attached to the empty bottles, left to be taken by those who need them, are cards explaining the bottles’ purpose and exactly where they can be filled.

Those in need can also contact the group any time via their Facebook page in order to request a bottle, a service open to “not just those sleeping outdoors but anyone struggling to stay warm”.

Since the first group was launched by Brighton direct action group Love Activists, communities in Manchester, Leicester, Bath, Nottingham and Cardiff were inspired to do the same.

Former nursing assistant and Bristol group founder Pete Wentland, 37, lived on the streets himself earlier this year after a car accident caused him to lose his job. It was during this time that he decided to promote direct action in his own community, launching a local network group for his city. “The Hot Water Bottle Network isn’t supposed to be in any way a solution or an alternative to the systemic change we need,” he said.

“Ultimately what we need is for homeless people to be housed. Simple as that. As well as the humanitarian argument, it’s also always the most cost-effective solution.”

Wentland slammed austerity conditions for increasing homelessness numbers. “It’s obvious that benefit cuts, wage stagnation, the bedroom tax, erosion and closure of public and homelessness services are factors behind the horrific rise of homeless people in the UK.”

“There’s no doubt that there are some great outreach groups in Bristol but there is certainly not enough being done by the government, in fact quite the opposite.”

This follows fundraising by friends of late Big Issue vendor Kevin Headley, who died in May, to produce a number of his own warming device for people on the streets. Dubbed the Hottie, Kev’s design used straps and Velcro to create a hot water bottle backpack. Kev was a well-loved community maintstay who was a passionate proponent for the underground arts scene in north-east London. He regularly wore a Hottie himself when selling The Big Issue outside Hackney Wick Station.

Anyone in Bristol who wants to donate bottles and covers can take them to Emmeline Cafe, Monty’s Cafe, Montpelier Bath Buildings and The Red Lion Inn. “We hope that businesses opening their doors in this way will also help to break down barriers in the community and make it easier for people to integrate at what can be a very isolating and dehumanising time,” added Wentland.

“We need to look out for each other or we will be picked off one by one. Solidarity, not charity. We also need to start treating housing as a universal human right for all, not just a profit-making commodity for a few.”

Donations can be made to the group’s crowdfunder.

Image: Hot Water Bottle Network

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