Back in April 2022, it became apparent that a national cost of living crisis was developing and that the winter months would be very challenging for many people. We were still emerging from the pandemic, and thought about the fact that we would once again need to come together and plan support for local people.
As a result of our foresight, Bristol was one of the first cities to develop a planned local response to the cost of living crisis. I met with community workers who were on the ground in communities across our city to discuss our approach. The idea of Welcoming Spaces was born. We would go onto create a network of spaces, open to everyone without judgement, where people could go to find company, a warm space, get help and guidance, or take part in activities.
Bristol came together as One City to provide these spaces for local people with help of community groups, advice agencies, local businesses, and over 200 volunteers. The response was astounding and this approach led to a network of 105 Welcoming Spaces spread across the city, all there to help others. The spaces ranged from children’s centres and care homes, to places of worship and leisure centres. Many of them opened their doors specially to help people during the difficult winter months and each one responded to the unique needs of their local community.
It’s been great to see other local authorities following Bristol’s lead and many have set up warm and welcoming spaces initiatives in their own local areas this winter.
In the spring we surveyed the Welcoming Spaces to understand how it all went and today we’ve published an impact report that summarises the successes and things we’ve learnt.
From the information we gathered, it’s estimated that between October 2022 and April 2023 almost 5,000 people visited Bristol’s Welcoming Spaces. The biggest impact that the spaces had was on building a sense of community and 93% of responses we received said that they had improved social connection. This shows the real potential that Welcoming Spaces have in helping to build stronger communities within our city.
People who visited the Welcoming Spaces also benefited from the guidance given by advice agencies who provided support, trained volunteers and increased case worker capacity. Thanks to their work, over 400 people were given advice on debt, benefits and housing. Case workers helped residents collectively gain over £500,000 of new income through social security, and manage £290,000 worth of debt.
Last winter truly demonstrated the power of our One City approach in building resilience when facing big challenges. We are lucky in Bristol to have a wealth of people, community and voluntary organisations and businesses who are ready to help others and offer a warm welcome.
Thank you to everyone who made last winter’s response possible.
We need to continue to build on the community power that has made this response possible. We approach this winter, and any future challenges, with stronger confidence that we can come together to support local people.
Our Welcoming Spaces began as a means to help people in times of need but have evolved into so much more. They have become hubs for community life, have helped build social connection, and have forged new partnerships and networks. We cannot continue in crisis mode for the long term, and must now focus on creating lasting change and impact to reduce inequality and create stronger communities across the city. Welcoming Spaces can help us achieve this.
There are still over 60 Welcoming Spaces open in Bristol and you can find these on our interactive map.
We are also continuing to work with Quartet and the Integrated Care Board to deliver a One City fund that will support welcoming space activity, community hubs and extend the reach of advice organisations and emotional wellbeing support. A further £700,000 will be awarded from this fund in the coming months so we can expect more Welcoming Spaces to pop up soon.
We know that community and voluntary sector organisations are facing significant financial pressure, we feel this too in the public sector. As a city leader, I will continue harness the limited resources that are available to us and make them available to communities.
If you need help
Times are really tough for many people in Bristol and we will continue to support you wherever we can.
This week is Talk Money Week, which highlights the importance of talking about your finances and getting advice if you’re feeling stressed or worried. Although talking about money might feel awkward, reaching out can make a big difference to how you are feeling.
We have recently added advice agencies to our Welcoming Spaces map so you can easily find your nearest place to get guidance on money, benefits and housing.
The Bristol Financial Resilience Group led by Hargreaves Lansdown are also helping Bristol to become a more financial resilient city. They’re running a series of free webinars to equip people with the skills they need to become more confident managing finances. Find their previous webinars and details of upcoming webinars on their website.
Remember our cost of living webpage is still available for information about benefits, food, emergency support, housing and mental health.
You can also call the free We Are Bristol helpline to get information and advice about the cost of living for free on 0800 694 0184 between 8.30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
I would continue to encourage anyone that needs help to reach out.