Britain’s libraries and museums are gearing up to serve as warm havens for people who can’t afford to heat their homes during the winter months.
Ministers are being called on to provide urgent new funding so that public buildings can cope with increased visitor numbers during the colder months.
The buildings will be part of a network across the country that will provide warm shelter to help reduce excess winter deaths related to freezing conditions.
The call for support to ensure major public buildings can keep their doors open comes as organizations across the country face steep increases in energy bills. A nursing home group told the Observer that its annual energy bills drop from £1.5m a year to £7.7m.
Alistair Brown, Policy Officer at the Museums Association, representing the museum sector, said: “Museums will be relied upon to respond to this crisis, but many will struggle to heat their own spaces.
“People are starting to understand the scale of the crisis and we don’t want to reduce museum opening hours.”
The Catalyst Science Discovery Center and Museum in Widnes, Cheshire, said last week that the quote for renewing its annual gas contract had risen from £9,700 to £54,362.
Isobel Hunter, chief executive of Libraries Connected, which represents the public library sector, said: “Central government should provide councils with additional funding this winter to meet rising energy costs, which would help ensure that libraries libraries remain open as vital and warm refuges for their communities. ”
Paul Drumm, of GLL, a charitable social enterprise which runs libraries in Greenwich in south-east London, said libraries in the borough had already spent £28,000 on new seating and other furniture to prepare for the increase in the number of visitors during the winter months.
He said: “We are acutely aware of the huge impact the energy crisis will have on many people living within the local community. We will promote our libraries as designated “warm spaces” for those who cannot afford to heat their homes. »
Libraries and museums will be part of a national network of welcoming centers provided by local councils, community groups and charities. South Cambridgeshire District Council launched a tender earlier this month for a contract to provide “a series of hot centers from community buildings” to support people exposed to the cold.
Meanwhile Care England, which represents 4,500 care services, said operators were facing increases of up to 500% in energy costs, with some considering reducing the number of elderly people they take to facilities. hospital services or close their care homes to survive.
“Care services across the country will have to close this winter unless the government takes immediate action. Some providers will simply not be able to continue – they will collapse,” said Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England. “There is no cap on energy costs for care homes and residents of care homes for the elderly receive no government reimbursement.”
Analysis by consultancy BoxPower shows care homes were paying energy costs equivalent to £700 per bed each year. But this month homes are being quoted the equivalent of £4,027 per bed for those wanting to buy power from October. This is an increase of approximately 437% in energy cost per bed over a 12 month period.
Brunelcare, which provides sheltered accommodation for 1,400 people and runs seven care homes in Bristol and Somerset, was this month forced to sign a new annual energy contract worth £7.7million as the prices were rising by £100,000 a day. The charity was paying around £1.5million a year until last year.
“We are in an absolutely impossible situation,” said Oona Goldsworthy, chief executive of Brunelcare. “I’ve had one of the worst weeks of my life and been through Covid so I know what hard times are like. We are again completely abandoned.
A government spokesperson said it had made £3.7billion of extra funding available to local authorities, which they can spend on adult social care. “No national government can control the global factors driving up the price of energy, but we will continue to support businesses, including nursing homes, as they navigate the months ahead,” a spokesperson said. .
School leaders say they face a ‘double whammy’ of spiraling energy bills and a 5% pay rise for teachers. An executive director of a multi-academy trust, which oversees a number of inner-city secondary schools and asked not to be named, said: ‘I’m already at minimum support staff. We will not replace any member of staff when they leave. Its schools are already bringing together two classes of children to fill temporary staff gaps.
Dan Morrow, chief executive of the Dartmoor Multi-Academy Trust in Devon, said it was now a ‘race to the bottom’ for schools and the effects on children ‘will be profound for generations “. His trust needs to find an extra £800,000 for utility bills this year and £900,000 for pay rises.