Devon charity offers a warm space for local people

4 min


Cost of living crisis

A warm space is being offered for people affected by the cost of living crisis. The initiative to help local people is being set up by the Exminster based charity, Westbank Community Health and Care. 

Mindful that many members of the local community are struggling as a result of the recent hike in their household bills, the team has just launched its Warmwell at Westbank initiative at its premises near Exeter. 

The former Seedlings Cafe has been transformed into a comfortable and cosy space. There’s a lounge and dining area whereby people can drop in for something warm to eat and drink with the opportunity to socialise if they wish to. 

As well as hot drinks, people can help themselves to a free nourishing bowl of soup and stock up on complimentary produce from the food larder and community fridge. 

It means that any surplus food from Fareshare each week is made available for local people to use.

There’s also an information hub. From time to time, partner agencies will be on hand to provide support and guidance on managing finances, keeping warm, eating healthily and staying well. 

Warmwell at Westbank is open Monday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and is staffed by volunteers. Anyone, including members of the Westbank team, are welcome to pop in.

Use of space to help people in need

‘We were thinking about how best we could use this space, what people needed and how best to use surplus food,’ says Westbank’s Community Support Manager Vicky Hutchinson.

‘Our team has worked exceptionally hard to get this initiative off the ground in a short space of time with an incredibly limited budget. We’re grateful to everyone who’s had a hand in making this somewhere people will be comfortable spending time.’

‘We’re all in the same boat at the moment and don’t know how long this crisis will go on. If people have got a specific worry or question, there will always be somebody at Westbank who can help.’ 

‘That’s the beauty of Westbank, we build ongoing relationships and can signpost people to other useful services. Also, I think if you provide food, people will come. It’s just a nice, warm, nurturing thing to do.’

Twentysomething mums Hannah and Olivia from Starcross, who have five children between them, are worried about the cost of food and heating this winter. 

‘The cost of everything has gone up so much,’ says Olivia. ‘It’s a big struggle, particularly during the holidays when the children are at home more.’ 

‘My mortgage has just gone up by £200 a month. I’m a single parent and don’t want to lose my home, but I’ve now got to find that on top of all the other bills. It’s the first time I’ve come here but I definitely think I’ll be here regularly over the winter.’ 

Spreading the word

‘I’m on maternity pay and my partner works full time but the bills just sap you,’ says Hannah, who has a two-month-old baby. 

‘It’s quite scary trying to cover everything. I think a lot of people are in the same situation. You can’t not put on the heating with a newborn in the house.’ 

‘So far, we haven’t put it on because it hasn’t been cold enough but I definitely stop and think twice now before using my electricity.’ 

‘I’m a very open person and love the opportunity to socialise with new people. I’ve brought my knitting with me,’ says local pensioner Alma Harding. Alma lives alone and expects to visit at least once a week.

‘I’m having problems with my electricity supplier since the prices have gone up and have suddenly been landed with a huge bill.’ 

‘Just paying the basics of electricity, gas and rates is costing me one thousand pounds a month. It’s great to know there’s somewhere like this I can come.’

Retiree Trevor Shimmen has volunteered at Westbank for more than four years and says he’s seen how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting people. Whenever he’s free between transport pick-ups, he pops into the Warmwell space. 

‘It’s lovely. It’s warm and cosy, very nice,’ says Trevor. ‘I’m lucky to be able to manage okay but for people who haven’t got a lot of money, it’s very important.  We’ve just got to spread the word so that people know it’s here and available for everyone.’

Images supplied courtesy of Sharon Goble, If Media. 

Captions: Alma Harding at Warmwell / Staff and local residents enjoying lunch at Westbank. 

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