By ITV News Digital Producer Suzanne Elliott
A blast of Arctic air that has sent temperatures plummeting across the UK is likely to increase demand for 'Warm Spaces' - community hubs set up to help households facing soaring energy bills.
Hairdressers, restaurants, and breweries, along with community halls and churches have advertised themselves as a warm hub on Warm Spaces where people are able to find their nearest hub using the website's interactive map.
Holly Watson, who co-founded the Zero Waste Company, a vegetarian restaurant in Tunbridge Wells, said they had always been a community-led venture and opening their doors as a warm space was their way of giving back to those who had helped them during successive Covid lockdowns.
Ms Watson and co-founder Charlotte Bowyer were also spurred on to offer the cafe as a warm space because people always commented on how warm and cosy it was.
"For me, it was a no-brainer, I'd much rather someone was here than freezing or struggling somewhere else. It kind of didn't even occur to me not (to open) really.
"And I just thought I'd much rather people came in here to work, or whatever, if they're just trying to save money on bills," Ms Watson told ITV News.
The currently dangerously cold weather amid soaring energy costs has increased the need for warm hubs.
More than three million low-income households cannot afford to heat their homes, according to analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, as temperatures drop below zero across the UK.
About 710,000 households cannot pay for warm clothing, heating and food, the social change organisation found, with a fifth of all low-income households – 2.5 million – going without food and heating.
The survey of 4,251 people in the bottom 40% of incomes also found that around 4.3 million curbed their spending on heating ahead of the cold spell.
Ms Watson said she had noticed more people seeking the warmth of the cafe as temperatures dropped.
"The biggest comments we're getting from people when they come in is 'I'm freezing, I need to warm up'... and I've had people say 'I need to sit somewhere warm for a bit, I've been working from home'."
At the Zero Waste Company, people are under no obligation to buy anything - customers can sit with a glass of water for as long as they like, although Ms Watson admits it has been hard to reach the people who are in real need of warm spaces.
"I am very aware, Tunbridge Wells is an affluent town, but that's not to say that we don't have people who desperately need help, because I know we do," she said.
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"I just want people to use it. For me, it's all very well putting things out there, but it's more about actually people benefiting from it."
"It's a very difficult thing to ask for help," she added.
Meanwhile, in Devon, the Tap House at South Hams Brewery has been running a warm spaces evening every Friday since 7 October, with the fire lit, candles out, boardgames and a hot 'one-pot' offer for £4.
Opening as a warm hub was also inspired by a local customer commentating on how warm and cosy the space was when they were brewing, hospitality and events manager Holly Cooper told ITV News.
Ms Cooper said the response to the first warm space gathering was "amazing", adding there are many reasons why people seek out the warm space and their evenings were not just for those struggling financially.
Community is at the heart of warm spaces and perhaps our need for collective warmth has highlighted other needs we have neglected, something that is apparent at the Tap House's gatherings.
"We wanted people to know that we were offering a get-together for everyone, because there are all sorts of reasons why it's good to get together as a community, for other issues like loneliness and so on," Ms Cooper said.
She added: "I know there are people who have come along because they are struggling to put the heating on at home and there are people that come on their own who are enjoying the company.
"But the nice thing is there's no distinction between those who have and those who haven't, it doesn't matter (why you're there), there are all different types of people from all different walks of life, all situations coming together. And even if we help one person in just one small way, every week, that's enough for us."
"I know people that have really benefited from coming along to our warm space. It has given them an opportunity to go out, have a meal, be around people in the community, have fun with boardgames, be in a nice environment with a fire lit and candles and keep warm without too much expense."
How can people register their warm hub?
You can add your warm space to Warm Space directory through its sign-up page.
The space must be a publicly accessible location - not a private home.
It could be a coffee shop, an unfilled spot in a co-working space, a pub, or your weekly community centre drop-in session.Your local authority may also have guidance on setting up a warm space.