In Britain, ‘hotspots’ emerged to beat rising energy costs

In Britain, ‘hotspots’ emerged to beat rising energy costs

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, England (AP) — On a late winter’s day in Shakespeare’s birthplace, the foyer of the Other Place Theater is a cozy haven. Visitors are meeting over coffee, checking email, writing poetry, learning to sew.

It looks and feels like an arty cafe on a picture street in Stratford-upon-Avon, but it’s a “warm hub” set up to welcome the Royal Shakespeare Company’s drama troupe. People struggle to heat their homes Because of sky-high electricity prices.

Thousands of warm hubs have sprouted across Britain this winter Rising food and energy prices Millions drive to turn down the thermostat or eat a hot meal. Research by the opposition Labor Party counted around 13,000 such hubs, funded by a mix of charities, community groups and government, and located in libraries, churches, community centers and even a tearoom at King Charles III’s Highgrove country estate.

Wendy Freeman, an artist, writer and seventh-generation Stratfordian, heard about the RSC’s warm hub from a friend. He lives in “a small house with no central heating” and relies on a coal fire for warmth. Like many, he was cut off in response Cost of living crisis Driven by the highest inflation since the 1980s.

“You just adapt,” said Freeman, 69, who was using the center as a warm, quiet place to work on a poem. “Little things, like putting less water in the kettle. I grew up with ‘save the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves’. I always cook from scratch and eat what’s in season.

“But it’s nice to go somewhere warm,” he added.

A perfect storm Russia’s war in UkraineDisruption of chronic epidemics and The economic aftershocks of Brexit More and more people in Britain are being put under financial stress. Households and businesses are particularly affected Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has driven up natural gas prices Need for heat and helped push the UK into recession.

The The UK’s annual inflation rate was just above 10% In January, food prices rose nearly 17% year-on-year. According to the Office for National Statistics, about 62% of adults are using less natural gas or electricity to save money. A quarter of households run out of money for regular necessities, pollster Serva found.

Although oil and Natural gas prices have fallen From last year’s peak, the average British household’s energy bill is still double what it was a year ago. Costs for many will rise by another 20% on April 1 when a The price cap set by the government increases.

Ann Bolger, a retired math teacher, happened upon the warm hub while out walking one day and has returned every week since. He comes to check email, prepare for math tutoring or do a jigsaw puzzle

“Today is the day that I appreciate it, because it’s freezing at home,” he said.

The hub, the smallest of the RSC’s three theatres, runs one afternoon a week. On Tuesday, the venue held a mix of theater workers, actors on their way to rehearsals and visitors to warm up. Organizers provide puzzles, games, toys for children, free tea, coffee and Wi-Fi – even a sewing table.

“I love the fact that it’s such a creative place,” Bolger, 66, said. “People are meeting there, they’re talking, they’re working. I feel a little more alive, a little more connected than I do sitting at home.”

That’s what organizers want to hear. They say Warm Hubs exist to alleviate loneliness Energy poverty.

“The warmth is as welcome as coming into a warm building,” says Nicola Salmon, who oversees the hub as the RSC’s creative space-making manager. “There’s always someone to chat with.”

Stratford, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of London, is a prosperous town that lives well from its most famous son, William Shakespeare. Even on a winter weekday, tourists wander the streets of half-timbered Tudor buildings to see the house where Bard was born, visit the schoolroom where he studied and stand over his tomb in the medieval Holy Trinity Church.

The RSC is one of Stratford’s major cultural attractions and a major employer. Salmon said the warming center is part of the company’s efforts to get closer to its surrounding community, a city that is “often considered wealthy and affluent” but has “areas of great deprivation.”

like Food Bank of Britain — now numbering an estimated 2,500 — is a crisis measure showing signs that the hotspots are becoming permanent.

Warwickshire Rural Community Council, a charity across the county surrounding Stratford, set up a mobile Warm Hub – a minibus-turned-pop-up outdoor cafe – in 2021 as pandemic restrictions plunged many rural residents into isolation.

A year ago, the charity ran five hubs across the county, with the support of Cadent, the private company that supplies most of Britain’s heating gas. Due to the impact of winter and rising energy billsThe number has grown to 90, from meals to repair workshops and slow cooking courses that reduce gas use.

About 30 hubs will open this summer — aiming to become permanent — and mobile hubs will be on the road five days a week.

“People say we shouldn’t be in this situation and we shouldn’t be,” said Jackie Holcroft, the charity’s Warm Hub manager. “But we are. And I think one of the most amazing things is that you’ve got hundreds, thousands of volunteers around Warwickshire and they’re all coming together to make a difference.”

The RSC hot spot will close at the end of March, but the organization is already planning its return next year.

“I’m going to miss it like crazy,” said Bolger, a regular. “I don’t expect the fuel crisis to last forever, but I do expect this place to stay open.”

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