Impact Report of Warm Welcome Spaces

Last winter, over 4200 venues opened their doors as "Warm Welcome Spaces", over 500 in the Diocese of Leeds alone. Read about the huge impact they had, along with some more surprising findings.

The Impact of Warm Welcome Spaces across the Diocese of Leeds

Over the latter part of 2022, many people in the UK (Wellsprings included) were extremely concerned about the cost of living crisis, and the corresponding response from churches, other faith groups and community organisations was remarkable.

Many groups chose to offer their venues as ‘Warm Welcome Spaces’ over the winter period as part of a national network of over 4,200 venues under the Warm Welcome banner – over 500 opened in the Diocese of Leeds area alone. The initiative has been well supported by 40 national partner organisations including the Church Urban Fund, who also promote Places of Welcome as a similar but distinct offer.

The Warm Welcome Impact Evaluation report was issued in May 2023, following the completion of a representative sample survey in February and March. It makes interesting reading! Here are a few of the findings:

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Who, when and how many come to a Warm Welcome Space?

78% of visitors had been to a Space more than once over the winter, with the highest proportion visiting once per week (48%) and most people going individually (49%) rather than as couples/families.

It seems that a weekly provision seems to be sufficient for the many visitors, and this corresponds broadly with the availability of venues and volunteers, as there is always the option of visitors going to a different venue on a different day.

Most Spaces reported an increase in overall visitor numbers over the winter campaign – half experienced an increase of up to 25% increase, and 10% managed 50% or above. Conversely, 17% had no additional people turn up at all. Total numbers ranged from 0 (5%) to over 100 (4%) with 48% having between 11 and 50 attenders on average.

The range of total numbers who attended each venue was extremely wide, and without any information as to why makes it difficult to explain. However, experience would suggest that issues such as the level of existing contact and reach into the community, the quality of the welcome, the hospitality and the activities provided, the venue location and suitability and the publicity generated will have all played a part.

What ages were the people who came?

Whilst around half of the total visitors were over 55 years old, there was a significant percentage (20%) between 35 and 44 years old – in other words, a comparable number of working age adults to older adults, plus a significant minority of younger adults.

It’s interesting how the range of visitor ages is so broad – it’s certainly not just pensioners affected by the crisis – with younger working age adults (18 to 44 year olds) making up over a third of visitor numbers

What about those running a Space?

The average number of people involved in running a Space was 4 (of which at least 3 were volunteers) and half the venues were open as a Space for 1 day a week, typically for between 2 and 4 hours.

It goes to show that even a small number of volunteers can make a huge difference in their community given half a chance.

Why did people come to a Warm Welcome Space?

The most frequent response given for the reason why people had come was because they were invited by a friend (49%)

The top 5 reasons for coming were:

  • ‘because it’s warm’ (53%)
  • ‘because it’s safe’ (36%)
  • ‘to meet new people’ (34%)
  • ‘to meet people I know’ (31%)
  • ‘because it’s free’ (27%)

Apart from the cost of living issues (it’s warm and free) it is perhaps significant that the other top reasons were around being a safe space and a place to meet new and existing friends – half coming as a response to a personal invitation.

What did visitors feel had been the main benefits of visiting a Space?

Being always or often worried about energy prices before and since coming to the Space had reduced by a third; from 60% before to 40% afterwards.

The most positive change seems to have been the change in the extent to which visitors felt lonely – beforehand, almost 40% of respondents said they were often or always lonely, falling significantly to just over 6% since coming to the Space. Equally 60% of respondents were now never or rarely lonely, compared with 27% before coming to the space.

85% of respondents agreed that attending the space had improved their mental well-being.

The reduction of both anxiety and loneliness and improvement in well-being, reveal perhaps the most significant benefits of Spaces for the majority of visitors.

The Warm Welcome report goes to show how churches and other organisations can make a significant and positive contribution to the pressing issues of today – an encouraging sign in these difficult and uncertain times. Wellsprings expects that there will be a need for a similar initiative as we come into the Autumn and Winter of 2023/2024 and hopes to be able to support all those across the Diocese of Leeds who want to serve their communities.

Footnote: Over the last 2 months, Wellsprings has encouraged many Spaces to consider opening all year round as a member of Places of Welcome. As well as some great resources from being part of the Places of Welcome network, the Wellsprings team provides local, in person support across the Diocese. Please get in touch if you want to know more.

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