Methodists offer warm welcome

16 January 2023

Methodist churches have responded to the cost-of-living crisis by opening their doors to ensure that communities are not left out in the cold.  More 450 Methodist churches have now registered on the Warm Welcome website as being willing to offer somewhere for people to find heat, comfort and companionship. This makes the Methodists second only to the Church of England in uptake of the scheme.

Opening a church as a Warm Space can come with additional costs, not least that of heating.  Some Methodist districts have made special grants available to those churches who are offering warm spaces including Isle of Man, Sheffield, Lincolnshire, Liverpool, Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury, Yorkshire North and East, and Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire. Different districts have different guidance on eligibility and how the grants can be used.    

The Revd Jade Bath is the District Grants Officer for Lincolnshire, where five churches have applied for grants of up to £1,000. Jade commented, “These grants are from the District Advance Fund and Mission in Britain Fund and are offered to help churches offset the additional costs of new initiatives that are operating as a warm space. Our grants cover up to a third of the cost of the schemes for six months and help pay for additional heating, food and refreshments, promotional expenses and activities such as newspapers and magazines. Emergency welfare grants have also been used to help provide for other essentials where people may be struggling, such as sanitary products or school shoes.”  

“Public transport can be difficult in districts such as ours with rural communities. We are pleased that two of the churches who are participating are in villages where there is limited access to public spaces.”  

In the Liverpool District, Grant’s Officer Revd Helen Jobling processed 26 applications for grants to support Warm Spaces in November last year, with applications from all circuits. She said, “We were aware that the need was urgent if we were to ensure that our churches were ready for the coming winter.  We encouraged our churches to work ecumenically, expand existing outreach projects or start something new."  

One of those churches in the Liverpool District to receive a grant was St Luke's Methodist Church, Hoylake, where Cate Warbrick is the Church and Community Lay Development Worker who is coordinating the initiative. She commented, "We have been very busy with people coming in for conversation as well as comfort so we have been providing spiritual as well as practical warmth. There are many who come to us who are on the edge financially and emotionally. Projects like Warm Spaces can help people feel less fearful about the immediate future. Knowing that they can get food and warmth tomorrow relieves, in some measure, the anxiety of today.

"Our Warm Space is helping the community come together to fight the cost-of-living crisis. Working with recipients of Council funding and other churches we have had a donation of electric blankets, flasks, gloves and hot water bottles and will soon be receiving a batch of slow cookers to give away. People will be invited to join community groups on how to use them and will be able to access packs of ingredients from a community fridge at the church.  

"I do worry if the worst of the financial crisis is yet to come."

The Beds, Essex and Herts Grants Committee offered churches 1000 if they were able to open up their premises as a Warm Space for at least four hours each week.

So far grants for 32 churches have been awarded in the district, including Bishop’s Stortford Methodist Church where Revd Gill Hulme is superintendent.  Here, the church has expanded the welcome of some of its existing outreach projects and room-hires to ensure that the church is open for as many days as possible across the week.

Gill commented, “The synergy of working with charities has allowed us to open up our Oasis lounge to more people as a warm space and to offer a range of support for people involving organisations such as the Bishop Stortford Foodbank and Citizens Advice Bureau who also use our space.  The organisations and charities we partner with have been very accommodating, opening themselves up to new people. We are fortunate that the layout means you can rest and relax in one part of the lounge whilst activities, like our Tuesday craft mornings go on, and so families, men from our local night shelter and of course the ladies who are knitting all have the space to be included in the activities or simply have soup and a roll.

“Spaces have to be warm, safe and welcoming. Having things like jigsaws and newspapers around means that people can feel involved without having to hold conversations with strangers. However, I do go in there with my collar on and talk to those who want to chat, but I don’t ask why they are here.

“One woman who came to us is now a volunteer. She said to me, ‘This is what church should be, this place has been a lifesaver.’”