Watch: ITV Meridian's Kit Bradshaw reports on the community groups offering warm public spaces
A double-decker bus will be used to provide a weekly ‘warm bank’ service to residents struggling to afford to heat their homes this winter.
The pioneering Isle of Sheppey Support Bus already offers a mobile food bank service to 100 households in Minster, Warden Bay, Leysdown and Sheerness.
Organisers are preparing to use the converted top deck as a dedicated warm space for the public in the coming months.
Community ambassador Paul Murray, from Oasis Academy, said: “During the winter time we’ve got this space for people to have a cup of tea and we’ve also got auxiliary heating on the bus, which is very useful.”
“There are spaces for people to have private conversations but also an area for people to socialise. For many who are quite lonely, it’s lovely for them to have a chat and we’ll be able to do that here.”
The support bus has been operating since September 2021, and offers groceries and household products to its members, who pay a small weekly fee.
Leysdown resident Chris Gibbs has been a loyal member since the beginning. He described the bus as a “fantastic thing for the island”.
“I come over and get my food… but you can also come and talk about your electric bills, they’ve got advisers, and they’re there to help you.”
The bus project – run by the Sheppey Community Development Forum – currently offers debt advice sessions and drop-in clinics by other groups such as the local council and police.
Major Lynne Clifton, from Sheerness Salvation Army, told ITV News Meridian: “I think people are more anxious now about the price of everything and how they’re going to stretch their money this winter.
“Particularly the fuel crisis that’s happening and is set to get worse. So, we’re doing lots of referrals to our fuel and water advisers.”
Maj. Clifton added that many regard the bus as a “real lifeline”.
Watch: Paul Murray, community ambassador, Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey
Meanwhile, the Sussex Community Development Association is looking at offering daily activities in community centres when the cold weather sets in.
Chief Executive Penny Shimmin told us: “We wouldn’t want to categorise it as people coming here to keep warm, what we’d want to be able to offer are a range of activities which would be interesting to people and at the same time they’re able to stay warm and eat well.”
The leader of Lewes District Council says they’re helping various community groups set-up similar projects.
Cllr James MacCleary (Lib Dem) said: “These so-called warm banks are something I don't think any of us thought we’d ever see in this country. But we’re basically having to pick it up, build this thing in-flight and work out how we can make it work best for residents.”
Prime Minister Liz Truss is expected to announce a major new energy support package later this week, with reports suggesting it could involve freezing household energy bills and providing extra support to businesses.