Social Justice

What is a warm bank and why are they needed this winter?

Here's everything you need to know about warm banks - including where to find one, why they're needed in the cost of living crisis, and what charities are saying about them

Image of woman getting warm/ warm banks/ energy bills/ winter/ cost of living crisis

Warm banks will be a refuge for people who need to get out of the cold. Image: Pexels

If you were in any doubt about the scale of the cost of living crisis which has devastated the UK, the fact that “warm banks” are in use across the country for a second year should tell you everything you need to know.

Millions of people will be unable to put on their heating when temperatures plummet this winter as energy bills remain at high rates. The situation became so bad last year that dedicated refuges were set up to cope with demand.

More than half a million people were forced to turn to warm spaces last winter, according to research from Warm Welcome. The reality is the real number is difficult to estimate and could be far higher, with many warm spaces like libraries already open to the public anyway. 

New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has revealed that one in six people used a warm bank last year – and there are fears the situation is only getting worse.

It could be even worse this year. One in two disabled people have said that they plan on visiting a warm space this winter because they cannot afford to put on the heating, according to recent research from disability charity Sense. 

Warm banks are a way of making sure people have somewhere to go where they can spend the day without spending money they don’t have.

As with food banks, the people setting them up are doing great work. But as they have said themselves, it is a mark of the desperate state of poverty in the UK that warm banks are needed at all.

They can only ever be a “short-term fix” in the cost of living crisis, and charities insist they cannot become normalised in the way food banks have, and that the government needs to find long-term solutions fast. 

Until then – here’s everything you need to know about warm banks – including where to find them, why they are needed in the cost of living crisis, how to help and the potential drawbacks. 

What is a warm bank?

Warm banks are safe places with the heating on, where people can go to get warm in the winter if they cannot afford to heat their homes. They are run by local councils, charities, museums, libraries and NHS services across the country.

Most libraries will once again offer warm spaces as the weather gets colder and the cost of living crisis continues to hit hard, a recent poll from Libraries Connected found. 

Gainsborough Community Library in Suffolk is one of the 93% of public libraries across England, Wales and Northern Ireland offering a warm space, according to Libraries Connected. 

Heated to 21C in the winter months, Gainsborough library has a cut-price café, a pop-up fruit-and-vegetable stand, and ‘kindness rails’ for people to donate items of clothing. 

More than three quarters (79%) of those surveyed expect demand to match or exceed last year, when soaring energy costs prevented many people from switching the heating on.

As the cost of living crisis grinds on, warm spaces provide vital respite from the weather alongside a bevy of other services.

“It’s a safe, non-judgemental space, and it’s free,” Grimwood says. “We’re already a community hub, so there’s no stigma attached to coming in. Anyone can access it no matter what.”

Why are warm banks needed?

The bleak reality is the cold kills. Around 10,000 people die each year from health conditions arising or worsening from having a cold home, according to National Energy Action. This year, amid the cost of living crisis and the huge spike in energy bills, millions of people will not be able to afford to turn on their heating.

Some 500,000 people visited warm rooms last winter. And although energy bills are less than they were last year, the government support is limited with no energy rebate which gave people a discount of £400 on their bills over the winter months. 

“Last year we had parents come in telling us they can’t afford to keep their children warm,” says Mandy Grimwood, the manager of Gainsborough Community Library. “They were really worried about what they were going to do.”

If the state of the situation at food banks is anything to go by, with the worst winter on record expected, warm spaces will be needed more than ever. 

Which organisations are running warm banks?

Many councils across the country are running warm banks this winter, or at least working with community organisations to provide warm spaces for residents. It started with a few councils coming up with a plan – including Bristol, Aberdeen, Birmingham and Dundee – and many more followed. 

The warm banks can be found in public buildings like libraries, museums and community halls. They are also being run by independent charities, small businesses and campaign groups who want to do their bit to help. Most libraries are acting as warm spaces this winter. 

“It’s a safe, non-judgemental space, and it’s free,” Grimwood says. “We’re already a community hub, so there’s no stigma attached to coming in. Anyone can access it no matter what.”

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 campaign Warm Welcome is also helping churches, community groups, businesses and councils set up warm banks. It was set up by a number of charities including Christians Against Poverty and Stewardship in association with ChurchWorks, a network of churches which joined together to help communities during the pandemic. 

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Can libraries, museums and charities afford to run warm banks?

One concern raised by campaigners is that public spaces like museums and libraries will not be able to afford to pay the energy bills themselves. They will need additional funding from the government, councils, donors and the public to keep their warm banks open. 

A spokesperson for the library and information association CILIP said last year that warm banks are an important initiative. But they warned: “As councils across the country feel the squeeze on budgets, there is renewed pressure to close or reduce local library services. 

“It would be a terrible irony if, just as people need their library the most, they find it locked and shuttered for lack of funds. If we really want to help everyone everywhere, we should be building new libraries on every high street.”

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.

What are charities and campaigners saying about warm banks?

Campaigners and charities have warned the country could become over-dependent on warm banks, which offer emergency support rather than long-term solutions. 

Matt Downie, Crisis chief executive, said the need for warm banks shows how desperate the cost of living crisis is.

He said: “It hardly needs stating that there should be no need for these facilities in 21st century Britain and that everyone should have the opportunity to have their own warm, safe home. Although it is commendable to see organisations try to help by setting them up, they can only ever be a short-term fix.”

David Barclay, campaign coordinator at Warm Welcome, said: “It’s tragic that Warm Welcome spaces are required, but it’s heartening to see organisations stepping up and working together to provide a joined-up, nation-wide response. 

“We believe that a movement is stirring which can not just support people through this winter but also help us as a country change direction on poverty and destitution.”

A spokesperson for Fuel Poverty Action added: “Food banks, warm banks, postcode lotteries, people dying in ambulances waiting for hours outside hospitals, people considering suicide because they don’t know how they’ll heat their homes – all of this has been ‘normalised’ in a country where the government has prioritised profits, especially the profits of the energy corporations, over the money we need for our households and for services.”

Simon Francis, End Fuel Poverty Coalition coordinator, added: “The nation’s over reliance on food banks should serve as a warning to the future that we cannot normalise warm banks as part of our lives.”

How many warm banks are there in the UK?

There are more than 7,000 warm spaces registered with the campaign Warm Welcome and that figure is expected to keep growing.

Organised by a coalition of charities, the initiative is helping community groups, businesses and local authorities set up warm banks. They have launched  a virtual map tracking warm banks across the country.

The true number could be far higher. A Labour Party analysis of council data and Freedom of Information requests revealed in February this year that at least 12,834 opened throughout the country.

Where can I find my local warm bank?

Warm Welcome has launched a virtual map of warm banks, making it much easier to find one near you. All you need to do is type in your postcode and you’ll be able to find any warm banks registered with the campaign in your area. 

Another way to find a warm bank near you is to look on your local council’s website or contact it directly. Even if it is not running a warm bank itself, it should be able to direct you to a charity or other community organisation which is offering support this winter. 

What can you do to help set up warm banks?

If you can spare some money, you can donate to fundraisers launched by charities running food banks. You could also contact local charities to see if they need help – they may be looking for volunteers or donations of specific items like food and toiletries. If you’re wanting to set one up yourself, check out the guidelines from the libraries association and Martin Lewis. You can also find advice on Warm Welcome’s website about how to register your warm space and get tips on setting one up.

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