Businesses, faith organisations and community groups in Stoke-on-Trent have come together to create a network of welcoming spaces to offer support as the cost-of-living crisis continues.
The move is part of the Stronger Together Through Winter initiative launched by the city council in October, to date 30 venues have registered to take part.
Stronger Together Through Winter offers a range of support including grants and advice on benefits and other forms of support.
Council leader Abi Brown said “I am delighted to see that our city is coming together during these tough times and local businesses and groups have offered support to the Stronger Together Through Winter initiative”.
A welcoming space is, as defined by the council on its website “a place of connection in the community, which can be established or newly created, such as a community centre, library, or place of faith, where people can meet up, socialise, and potentially access support relating to the cost of living”.
Initiatives to support people through the winter as the cost-of-living crisis escalates have been made necessary by a continuing rise in inflation, reported by the Office for National Statistics as having reached 11.1%, a level not seen since 1981.
This has been caused by the UK being hit by what the Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey described as “a series of shocks”, including the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and rising food, energy, and fuel costs.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is to unveil plans for tackling in the economic turmoil created by world events and exacerbated by the ‘mini-budget’ announced by his predecessor Kwasi Kwarteng at the end of September.
This could see extensive cuts to spending on public services, tax rises and a return to austerity of the sort introduced by the coalition in 2010.
The Local Government Association has warned that Council Tax may need to rise by 20% over the next two years to cover a £3.4bn hole in local authority funding].
In a city like Stoke-on-Trent which has battled with serious social and economic problems for decades the tightening of the purse strings likely to follow the Autumn Statement could be catastrophic.
Already the city’s mothers’ support network is reporting a 500% rise in referrals and has been inundated by families seeking support faced by soaring energy and food bills.
Speaking to the Guardian founder Laura Carter said “We used to get about 10 new families a week; last Saturday we had 22 referrals in one day, and then it went up to 32 the following day. So, we’re getting more in a day now than we used to get in a week”, adding the she would “love Rishi Sunak to come here and meet some of the families that we are supporting, and to really know what the need is”.
Speaking as the community lounge at Affordable Foods in Blurton became the latest venue to join the network Abi Brown said, “We know that many households are feeling anxious about energy bills as the weather cools, therefore welcoming spaces are places where residents can meet in informal settings, have a chat, access advice and support and make use of services in a warm, welcoming environment”.
The council is looking expand the network and organisations interested in registering are being asked to complete a short form accessible here.
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