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Four women enjoying arts and crafts around a table

A warm welcome in difficult times

Across December and January, 25 grants were awarded by Ealing Council to local voluntary, community and faith groups to run warm spaces. These are, almost literally, places you can find a warm welcome – somewhere safe to find advice, company and escape the cold.

These warm spaces have been running over the winter. And details of local warm spaces available can be found by visiting the directory on the council’s community website Do Something Good and scrolling down to the ‘warm community spaces’ section.

A warm welcome at St George’s

One of the warm spaces is at St George’s Church in Lancaster Road, Southall.

The sessions there have built on what had started as a small mental health and wellbeing group at St John’s Church (in Guru Nanak Road, Southall) and then for two hours a week at St George’s too. The funding from the council has allowed it to open as a warm space all day on Wednesdays at St George’s and offer a range of activities – from board games and arts and crafts to snooker and exercise sessions; or just for people to have something to eat, a cup of tea and a chat somewhere warm. It has proved so popular that it has an average of 50 attendees.

‘Some people just want to chat’

Idina Dunmore is minister at the church and got involved in the group as soon as it was set up. She said: “We have lots of regulars now, but we also have others who come in new, from rough sleepers to people who are lonely and looking for community, and it is lovely how people have connected with each other. Some people just want to chat and have some company.

“As well as offering a space where people feel welcomed, and warm, we also provide advocacy and mental health support. It could be as simple as helping them with important letters, or filling in forms online. But some have more detailed needs, around mental health or housing. So, we refer people on to other services when we can and try to get them the help they need.

“It’s very much the right thing at the right time – with the cost of living crisis following on the heels of the COVID pandemic, when a lot of people felt really isolated and anxious.

“We run arts, quizzes and have even done trips – including to Kew Gardens recently. It all helps to bring people together and give them somewhere safe and enjoyable.”

A zumba class in a church with an instructor and around a dozen participants
St George’s Church’s warm space – a Zumba class led by Anjli Kotecha. Photo by Alex Sturrock

‘They are a lovely bunch’

Anjli Kotecha is a local personal fitness trainer and she runs 45-minute exercise sessions each week featuring Zumba, strength and balance routines and stretching – all to upbeat music. She is doing it through StayActive4Life, an organisation that is commissioned by the council to provide similar exercise classes at other venues.

She said: “This is a very, very busy class and it has a lot of energy. They are a lovely bunch and I look forward to giving the classes. It works their full body but without feeling like an exercise session – it’s about having fun while they do it. Exercise is so important – it’s all about keeping them moving and mobile.”

One of the regular attendees, Amrat, said she and others might not get that kind of exercise otherwise and that the dancing added to the social side of it.

She said: “It is very good and is helping us. They provide food and we do knitting and games, as well as dancing. We come out, make friends and it feels like a community. There are different kinds of people and everyone just gets on well and sits and chats to each other.”

‘Warmth – emotionally and literally’

Eddie Allette has been involved at St George’s for 22 years and performed a number of roles in that time, including church warden. He oversees the warm space.

Two men sitting on a church pugh and facing the camera
Samuel Koilpillai and Eddie Allette, who runs the warm space at St George’s Church. Photo by Alex Sturrock

He said: “The people who come here are missing something in life and we are helping to fill in that blank.

“There is a warmth here – emotionally as well as literally – and it makes people feel comfortable.

“The best thing is they can take their minds off their worries here, or share them with others, and they can also get advice with practical concerns like rent and other things.

“Some just want you to sit and listen and have a chat.

“I believe that, in life, you should as help as many people as you can. You never know: One day, you might need their help.”

‘Loneliness is a killer, not just the cold’

A regular visitor, who preferred to remain anonymous, agreed and said: “There is always someone to talk to. People come here with a positive mindset because it is something to look forward to – It’s a great day. It is an incentive to come out of the house and you need groups like this because loneliness is a killer, not just the cold. Help is available if you have a problem, which is great, especially when so much now is online and not everyone has access.”

‘A queue every week’

Rozeena Vander Waal is a mental health support worker and provides advice at St George’s every Wednesday as part of the warm space. She also holds sessions once a week at St John’s and is now hoping the warm spaces funding will allow her to do it more days a week.

“There is a queue of people every week,” she said. “It has definitely got bigger because of the cost of living. People are unable to afford food and bills and are in arrears. They don’t always know where to turn. I refer them to places to get the right help.

“I offer support with housing issues and benefits advice, help with letter-reading and online forms and with booking appointments. I also try to arrange cycling training to give people exercise outdoors, which is so good for mental health.

“Anxiety and isolation are so bad for mental health but there is a stigma around it and people need to ask for help.”

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