A crisis on our doorstep
January 2, 2023
Holly Shiel-Redfern and Kim Davis, partner and commercial director, and partner and chief executive, respectively, at Newcastle-based Explain Market Research, are supporting Alison Dunn, chief executive at Citizens Advice Gateshead, to raise awareness of how North East businesses can help push back against the cost of living tide. Here, they reveal more about their alliance, highlighting the Warm Spaces programme, which is providing people with a helping hand over the winter months.
While we are all acutely aware of the cost of living crisis, it’s safe to say that in the peak of last summer, none of us were thinking about the prices associated with heating our homes or keeping our children warm over the winter.
Alison Dunn, chief executive of Citizens Advice Gateshead, was, however.
She was already raising awareness of the imminent crisis on our doorsteps, highlighting to many how the cost of living crisis posed a serious risk to the lives of people in our communities.
And with the support of Gateshead Council, Alison embarked on a pioneering campaign.
The Warm Spaces programme has since gained national traction, secured prime media coverage across the UK and been adopted by a range of other community groups and local authorities.
It was a meeting on an August afternoon that led to Explain Market Research stepping into the stark reality.
We have since supported Alison to share the message and to bring together other regional businesses and organisations, to give a voice and movement to the campaign.
It is this message we bring to other North East businesses, in the hope we keep passing the baton, and that with greater understanding comes more action to support those in need of help.
Here, we speak to Alison, to learn more about the cost of living crisis, and what regional businesses can do to support the Warm Spaces initiative.
Tell us about Citizens Advice Gateshead
Citizens Advice Gateshead is one of the largest providers of social welfare advice in the North East.
Our vision is to create a fair society for all, with lives well lived.
We supported 19,000 Gateshead citizens with more than 80,000 advice issues last year, which included everything from problems with a mobile phone through to rent and mortgage arrears, relationship breakdowns, fuel poverty and income maximisation.
Can you provide some data to illustrate the cost of living crisis, particularly in the North East?
In 2021/2022, the North East overtook London in having the highest child poverty rate in the UK. The figure stood at 38 per cent, up from 37 per cent in the year before.
This equates to a little more than 11 children in a classroom of 30, with the North East experiencing by far the steepest increases in child poverty in the UK in recent years.
But it’s not just households with children and people on benefits who are suffering right now, struggles are present across the wide spectrum of society.
Even moderate earners are experiencing hardship. For most people, income is not keeping up with inflation, interest rates (and therefore rent and mortgages) are rising at a time when incomes remain relatively static, making it harder and harder for people to make ends meet.
Energy costs are a particular concern, and to illustrate just how worried people are about this, as a Citizens Advice network, we’ve received five years’ worth of demand for energy advice in just nine months.
Such a level of demand is unprecedented.
Tell us about the Warm Spaces initiative
Warm Spaces is a response to fuel poverty, which is rooted in community activism, local people and agencies coming together – enabled by Gateshead Council – to open their buildings and provide a warm welcome to people who need a helping hand during what we know will be a winter of discontent.
If you visit a Warm Space, you will be guaranteed a warm welcome, a hot drink and a warm space to sit.
Some Warm Spaces offer activities, others a living room-type experience, where you can read a newspaper, browse the internet and sit in comfort.
Whichever space you choose, you will never be asked why you are there; you’ll be treated kindly, with respect and dignity, and you’ll not be forced into services (although they are available for anyone who needs a helping hand).
Some venues offer a light bite to eat and run their Warm Spaces alongside other services like food banks, food share markets and drop-in advice sessions.
To find a venue near you, visit www.gateshead.gov.uk/warmspaces
What can regional businesses do to support the initiative?
There are many ways to help. Ideas include:
• Sponsoring a Warm Space venue, by providing tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milk and biscuits
• Donating winter warming merchandise, such as blankets, hot water bottles, flasks, hats, scarves and gloves
• Some community buildings would really benefit from a bit of TLC, minor building repairs and energy efficiency advice/measures
• If you’re a catering business, could you support with food items that can easily be distributed?
• Provide support for Warm Spaces through marketing and associated promotion, especially with localised activity
• Utilising vehicles to provide a community transport offering
Where can businesses find further information about supporting Warm Spaces?
The network of Warm Spaces is about the enablement of people and communities to help each other through a difficult winter, and businesses have a key role to play in enabling the activity through social action.
If you’ve got an idea that could help – it doesn’t matter if it isn’t mentioned on our wishlist – we’d love to hear from you.
To find out more, or to discuss how you might get involved, email [email protected]