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It Takes a Village: The Inclusive Warm Space Supporting People Through the Cost of Living

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Alford, Aberdeenshire has been opening their doors during the winter season to welcome the local community into a warm space amidst the ongoing cost of living crisis.

Photo: The inclusive warm space at the Friendship Café at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Alford.

The church’s Friendship Café has been a welcoming space each week for those facing a cold winter, expensive bills, and loneliness. For some participants with sight loss, the café has been a lifeline during the ongoing cost of living crisis.

One, perhaps unlikely friendship formed at the cafe, is that of a volunteer twenty-year old young man, who is neurodivergent, with a ninety-one-year-old lady who is partially sighted. The two sat together and immediately hit it off in conversation, now saving a seat for each other each week.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) estimates that the everyday living costs of a pensioner with a severe sight impairment would be a staggering 73 per cent higher than for someone of the same age without sight loss.

These extra costs result from a need for assistive technology, regular support at home with social care, domestic tasks and paperwork, increased reliance on transport to get out and about, as well as the extra costs of a companion or carer. Blind and partially sighted people can also face higher energy bills due to an increased need for lighting during the day to do specific tasks or to help them move around the home safely. RNIB’s research also found that more than 40 per cent of blind and partially sighted people feel cut off from the people and things around them.

But Warm Welcome Spaces like the Friendship Café and over 7000 other venues registered across the UK, are ensuring that people with sight loss and anyone facing cost of living concerns have somewhere to go that helps get them out of the house, maintain independence, while keeping warm and comfortable.

Photo: A book at St Andrew's Episcopal Church Friendship cafe in Alford with a tree in the logo.

The Friendship Café offers a selection of volunteer-made soup, home baking, and even the occasional buttery- thanks to support and donations from the local community and businesses. There is a rota to help with transport, and the volunteers place a strong importance on the ‘personal touch’, ensuring everyone is listened to, welcomed, and supported.

For those with sight loss, inclusivity sometimes just means a small adaption. One young participant who has sight loss and uses a white cane, recently thanked the volunteers for using deep soup bowls, as without sight, the bowls are much sturdier and easier to take a spoonful from.

The impact of this personal touch is subtle but true. When a volunteer asked this participant to leave a message in the café’s Friendship Book- a guest book for any visitors- he asked them to simply write, “Thank you very much, I will be back.”

A team member says, “We are not a group of people doing something for others, we’re doing it with them. It’s not a big deal to include everyone, whether they’re partially sighted or not, it’s just respect, looking out for each other, giving practical help. We care.”

More than 50 per cent of those who visited Warm Welcome Spaces said that without them they would have been at home with the heating off. The spaces are not just helping rising costs, but also loneliness and isolation. Almost 40% said they ‘always’ or ‘often’ felt lonely before coming to a Warm Welcome space, the number drops to just 6% after joining a Space.

Lara Marshall, RNIB’s Libraries Engagement Manager says,

“RNIB are delighted to develop this special link to Warm Welcome Spaces as more and more people with sight loss are hit hard by the cost of living crisis. To be able to go online and find your nearest warm space, know that it will be accessible and that you will receive a warm welcome in more ways than one can be an absolute game changer. We are very much looking forward to enriching and expanding on this for the future.”

David Barclay, Founder of the Good Faith Partnership, the organisation leading the Warm Welcome Spaces campaign adds,

“The Friendship Café at St Andrew’s in Alford is a wonderful example of a warm space – a friendly, welcoming space that is inclusive for all comers, no matter what challenges they face as individuals. We’re delighted that St Andrew’s is part of our Warm Welcome campaign, which has developed from being a moment, in response to the cost-of-living crisis, into a movement, a force for good at the heart of communities up and down the country.”