Lancashire's warm hubs providing friendship as well as as sanctuary
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Leslie Eastham told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the decision to drop in to the town’s Kingsfold library, one of the venues offering the service, led to a chance encounter with like-minded locals who have since become firm friends.
His story has emerged as Lancashire County Council launched its warm and welcome spaces programme for a second year, amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. All of the authority’s libraries will once again take part and a range of community and voluntary sector groups have also signed up to provide a place of sanctuary.
Leslie, 63, says that by using the hub he escaped not just the cold - but a lifestyle in retirement with which he had become “bored”.
“I’ve got to know about a dozen people here, but there are a couple of chaps who have the same interests as me in old films and cult TV. Now we go to each other's houses a couple of times a week to watch films and old programmes.
“We all think the same and can really relax with each other, even though there is a bit of an age difference between us.
“I always used to come to the library, but hadn’t been for a while - and then I came along one particular afternoon when they had a games group on. I really enjoyed it and soon got into the swing of things, making friends with everybody, including the library staff.
“Now it's the highlight of my week,” the former Inland Revenue worker said.
Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, Michael Green, said that Leslie’s experience was not uncommon and showed the broader “positive benefits” of the warm spaces initiative - as well as the worth of the authority’s libraries.
“[The impact] has been far wider than what we originally set the scheme up for. Friends networks are building up and people are then meeting [separately], going out for a meal or spending Christmas together, things like that.
“And our libraries are somewhere that's part of the community. People are able to just pop in, have a chat and a cup of tea or coffee and they also have access to courses and groups,” County Cllr Green said.
He added that it “goes without saying” that people are still struggling this year and stressed that the warm hubs were “just a part” of the help on offer to Lancashire residents.
“We've got things like food support, fuel advice and support, the essential household goods scheme that we're running and affordable warmth initiatives.
“We're also working with district [councils] and Citizens Advice to get greater uptake of benefits, particularly for pensioners. People make contributions their entire life, but sometimes don’t claim the benefits that they're entitled to.
“We’ve got a dedicated cost-of-living hub, which is something I think is really important, so that people have got a one-stop-shop that they can go to on our website or pop into the local library and get all sorts of advice.”
Applications are now open for community and voluntary groups, as well as parish and town councils, to pitch for grants of up to £500 to establish their own warm space this winter. A total of £72,000 has been made available for the project.