It was around this time last year that the idea of Welcoming Spaces was first discussed with community partners. Facing escalating fuel prices and the worsening national cost of living crisis, we had to work out what we could do as a city. As it turned out Bristol was at the forefront of what quickly became an approach adopted by other areas to tackle the national cost of living crisis. I could not have imagined at that time that Bristol would go on to build a network of 100 Welcoming Spaces. This achievement is even more incredible because of the very challenging times we are in.
We have taken a One City approach to the national cost of living crisis, bringing together the community and voluntary sector, public sector, and private sector partners to support citizens and communities most impacted. Together we have mobilised our city-wide network of spaces for Bristol residents, located in a range of venues including community centres, places of worship, and leisure centres.
Welcoming Spaces have helped people through the difficult winter months by providing a warm welcome and bringing people together through community meals, film nights, and a wide range of other activities for all ages. By joining up with Citizens Advice and Changes Bristol there has been practical support on hand as well.
First and foremost, my thanks must go to all the community venues that have put themselves forward as a Welcoming Space. I know the past three years have been tough, on top of what people have had to deal with after a decade of austerity: there has been no respite between the pandemic and the national cost of living crisis. What people across Bristol have done through Welcoming Spaces has not gone unrecognised.
While what our communities have achieved is commendable, many of us can’t quite believe that this is something we are having to do in this day and age. People are still forced to choose between putting food on the table and heating their homes, which is an incredibly challenging place to be in. Foodbanks are now a common sight in many communities and the growing numbers of families relying on their support demonstrates how far national policy is failing low-income households.
The Welcoming Spaces have certainly played a part in supporting people through these difficult times, but we need to be seeing more support from national government. They urgently need to be doing more to support people, particularly those who are struggling most in our communities.
Our community development team has been regularly engaging with Welcoming Spaces to understand the impact Welcoming Spaces are having in local communities. It is great to hear more about the difference the organisations involved are making:
“People are coming to meet each other. It’s been lovely to see new friendships and connections.”
“All age groups have benefited from using our space, from toddler groups to retired/senior social groups and a teen youth group. The space is always warm and inviting.”
“We are seeing more people who are keen to talk and benefit from social interaction.”
“The centre remains very busy with visitors from all walks of life and coming for different reasons.”
The Welcoming Spaces have also been receiving some really heart-warming feedback from residents about their experience:
“Was great today. I was feeling really low so I just thought I’d pop in and see everyone, now I feel much better.”
“You just feel comfortable to stick around.”
“I’ve just been taking it all in. It’s lovely, I feel really at home.”
There are some criteria all Welcoming Spaces must meet, for example they must all be accessible to Disabled people and have access to somewhere to charge things like laptops, phones, and scooters. What happens at each Welcoming Space varies but could include access to Wi-Fi and electrical charging points, activities and community meals. Citizens Advice Bristol is also running drop-in advice sessions at many of the spaces, providing practical guidance around benefits, money, debt and energy.
To find out where your nearest Welcoming Space is, or if you need cost of living advice and signposting, visit Bristol City Council’s website. You can also call 0800 694 0184 between 8.30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.