Some 500,000 people visited warm rooms last winter. When it comes to community support offered by libraries, these spaces are the thin end of the wedge.
Of the library services that will be taking part in a warm space scheme, 74% will also host entertainment and cultural activities, 70% will provide free hot drinks, and 66% will run advice sessions on topics like household budgeting, the new survey suggests.
Libraries offer a “vast array” of services, explains Karen Pugh, senior libraries manager for Caerphilly County Borough Council.
“Reading and learning are our bread and butter, but we’re more than that, now… we’ve changed and evolved to meet new needs,” she says.
Caerphilly’s 18 libraries gave away more than 38,000 hot drinks between November 2022 and August. In collaboration with ‘Caerphilly Cares’ – a response triage service for county borough residents in need of support – the library also rolls out ‘warm packs’ filled with beanies, scarves, and gloves. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, Karen says.
“I’m scared to put the heating on in the flat because it’s so expensive. So it’s lovely that I can come here,” one feedback note reads.
“Thank you so much. I was freezing last night so I really needed this,” said a homeless library user after receiving a hot drink.
“A lady who cares for her husband who is on kidney dialysis visits the library for an hour most days to have a hot drink and spend some time doing a jigsaw,” the staff at another library wrote. “We think it’s a form of respite for her.”
The library is a key part of the holistic support offered by the local council. Caerphilly libraries collaborate with Caerphilly Cares to tackle food poverty, debt or rent arrears, isolation and loneliness. It all starts with a conversation and a cup of tea, says Pugh.
“Our staff are chatty, they’ll ask, ‘How are you, I noticed you were in here yesterday’ – and the person might reply, ‘Yes, I’m struggling a bit at the moment, I haven’t got anywhere to live.’ Then we can put them in touch with the services that can help them,” she explains.
Despite increasing spending pressures, Caerphilly has managed to keep all 18 of its libraries open. Sadly, this makes it an anomaly. Spending on libraries has fallen by almost half (47.9%) since 2010. Between 2010 and 2019, more than 800 of the beloved institutions were forced to close across the country.
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But the warm spaces initiative shows just how important libraries are, says Grimwood. “We are one of the vital services provided to communities now,” she explains.
Staff go above and beyond to help – even delivering Christmas toys to the houses of their most vulnerable visitors.
“The parents [who were afraid about clothing their children over winter] started coming in regularly,” Grimwood recalls. “In the lead up to Christmas, we had a large toy donation, so we asked them if they wanted to choose something for each of their children.”
“The parents were just so happy. They said all we’d been able to get them before this was a colouring book and some pencils.”
Libraries are “here to help,” she enthuses. “Anyone can come in and ask for anything, really, and we’d do our best.”