‘My house is like being outside’ – A day at one of Barry’s vital warm hubs
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
“It’s like being outside,” said Elaine Cleary when she was asked to paint a picture of the current conditions in her home.
Elaine, who lives in Barry, comes to the Warm Welcome hub at Barry Library with her sister Beverly Goddard to keep warm.
Clutching one of the free teas that the library was giving out as part of its warm hub offering, Elaine explained how she, like many across the UK right now, are struggling to pay soaring energy bills.
Elaine said she can only afford to put her heating on once a week at the moment.
She added: “I only put it on last week for one day, and then it will go on again this week for one day. I can only do one day at a time.
“So I just sit in my house with a blanket over me.”
Exaccerbating the issue further, Elaine also has a broken front door, which she said won’t be fixed until next year.
“You can see daylight at the bottom [of the door] and down the side,” said Elaine.
“My son in law put stuff in to try and stop the draft, but it hasn’t worked.
“It has been reported four or five times to Newydd Housing and they have said I have got to wait until next year for a new front door.
“My hallway is absolutely freezing.”
Barry Library is one of many warm hubs across the Vale of Glamorgan which is part of the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Warm Welcome scheme.
The scheme, which has seen libraries, community centres, schools and churches across the county open their doors to offer a space for people to keep warm and have a hot drink was launched to help those struggling with the cost of living crisis.
Elaine’s sister, Beverly, said she lives on her own in a flat in Barry.
Her flat has become even more “freezing” since her window shattered after being fired at by an air gun.
Talking about the moment her window was shot at, Beverly said: “Luckily it didn’t go all the way through because if it had I wouldn’t be here. It would have hit me straight away.
“I have got to wait two weeks now for them to repair my window.
“It is freezing. If I want warmth I go up to the lounge.
“It is where my flat is situated. That’s why my house is so cold. It is like a cellar.”
Beverly said her electricity bill has gone up three times in price in recent weeks. When asked what it is like trying to get to sleep at night, she added: “[It is] very hard. Even when I have got three blankets on my bed and a hot water bottle. I feel the cold.”
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) went to Newydd Housing and asked them why it will take until next year for Elaine to have her door fixed.
Chief Executive at Newydd Housing Association Jason Wroe said: “At Newydd, tenant satisfaction is our top priority. We appreciate you bringing the issue with the door to our attention.
“While there is currently no live repair in progress, we will be sending an inspector out next week to reassess and take any necessary steps to address the issue.”
On top of offering a warm space and somewhere to get a free hot drink, warm hubs across the Vale offer various activities and ways of accessing further support should people need it.
There are 26 hubs across the Vale at the time of reporting, and although they were opened to help those who are struggling to pay their energy bills and keep warm, they are open to anyone who wants to go in.
Olga Cash and her son, Michael came to the warm hub at Barry Library to seek refuge from the cold whilst waiting for a taxi.
Michael said: “We have only just seen the service and thought to use it. I think it is a very good idea.”
Olga added: “It’s nice to be able to come in and sit where it is a bit warmer than outside.”
Olga and Michael’s electricity and gas bill has gone from £80 per month to £290 per month.
“If Michael wasn’t with me, I don’t think I could cope,” said Olga.
Michael, who works as a chef, said he and his mother have also seen the price of food rocket in recent months.
He said: “A couple of years back now [we were spending] £40 to £45 on shopping. We are looking more at like £50 to £60 now. That’s how much food has gone up.
“I wouldn’t say I am terribly stressed, but it is a little bit stressful.
“Mind you, things have only started so we will have to see where we are in three months.”
Barry Library has always offered a place of sanctuary, according to librarian Katherine Owen, highlighting that aside from their warm hub they have a number of activities on during the week.
“It is just somewhere where there are things [people] can do,” said Katherine.
“Like going on the computers or reading the newspapers.
“When we have our activities on there is a chance to meet other people and have a chat as well, so there is a social element to it.”
Katherine said all people are welcome to come to the warm hub and that there are no means tests that qualify anyone on entry.
She added: “We don’t want people to feel like they can’t have a cup of tea.
“We are all struggling to a certain extent. The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone.”
The Barry Uniting Church and the Bridge Between Community Centre is another hub that has been providing vital support as temperatures plummet.
Melissa Saunders, 27, works part time at the community centre and church. She said the space has also been vital in bringing people together.
“One person told me they come to the cafe on a Friday for company, just to meet two friends,” said Melissa.
“That is a key thing as well. Having people here, having company is really helpful.
“I would love to see this thriving every week. I would love to see that we are building a community for people, that there are new friendships for them.
“We are all coming together for the same purpose.”
Melissa, who sometimes brings her daughter into work, added that the warm hub has also been helpful for her and her family.
She said: “Just not having to think about the heating for that day is really helpful.
“With the little one you need to heat your house more. You need to keep them warm, so it is going to save us a bit of money.”
The community centre and church has been providing free soup and hot drinks to people coming through their doors on Thursdays.
The Vale of Glamorgan Council’s cabinet member for social care and health, Cllr Edward Williams, visited the warm hub to see the support they are providing.
He said: “You can just sense that the atmoshphere in here is ideal. You come in through the door, there is a cafe there and the fact that they are running it over the period that they are is just fabulous.
“The fact that they are offering soup and coffees as they arrive is just a fabulous facility. It is more than just sitting them in a room. People have that social aspect as well, which is a key element of it.”
Commenting on the wider issue of the cost of living crisis in the Vale of Glamorgan, Cllr Williams added: “You hear stories of people going on buses because it is the warmest place to be and you think to yourself ‘does that really happen?’ and yes, it does.
“We know there is an on-going issue every winter. It is just how we deal with it and after Covid I think we recognised that there is more that we can do and you go to places like this and think why can’t we utilise it?
“With the news at the moment… it is more apparent that we have got to do something and so when places open up like this it is fabulous.”
Commnity centres and churches across the Vale had been running their own warm hubs before the council launched its Warm Welcome scheme.
Warm Welcome, which launched in November, saw the council work with community spaces, churches and other groups to expand the network of warm spaces across the county.
When asked why the council hadn’t set up its scheme sooner, Cllr Williams said: “Those things have been happening behind the scenes, trying to organise those things and some of them are already happening.
“You can’t just walk into a place and say this is what we are going to do. You have to organise what it is you are going to provide, how you are going to provide it and if we are frank, there is a funding piece behind that as well.
“You can have a space, but you do need people to organise it. It would be no good just having an empty building.”
For more information and to find the opening times of a Warm Welcome hub nearest to you, visit the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s website here: https://www.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/en/living/Cost-of-Living/Warm-Spaces.aspx.
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