In the UK, libraries are becoming havens for victims of the economic crisis

In the UK, libraries are becoming havens for victims of the economic crisis

These institutions offer “warm spaces” vulnerable people so they can stay safe and have access to free food this winter.

It’s a nice warm place to come, considering the cost of heating these days“explains Marina Flynn who spends her day in a library in the east of England. Finding refuge there is no longer exceptional. More and more people are struggling to pay their bills and come to warm themselves in the middle of the books. “It’s as cold in my house as it is outside this winterSaid Marina Flynn, 54, as the temperature in Ipswich peaked at 5 degrees on this day in late January.

Unemployed, Marina Flynn has been coming regularly for a year to the Chantry Library, to warm up, have fun and also for the distribution of food or toiletries. THE United Kingdom, where inflation exceeds 10% for months, has been going through a severe cost of living crisis and millions of Britons can no longer afford to eat or heat properly.

Municipal libraries and other community centers or premises serve as heated reception areas for the poorest residents. “I use the food bank a lot (…) I can no longer afford to buy food“, adds, reading a book, Marina Flynn forcing her voice to be heard among the babbling of toddlers and babies who have come with their parents or nannies to participate in a musical activity.

The role of UK public libraries with vulnerable communities has grown. They are financed by the municipal councils, which themselves have suffered from major budget cuts since the financial crisis. Libraries have had to raise additional funds or rely on volunteers. Furthermore, in the face of inflation and soaring electricity bills, a charity specializing in library access, Cilip, has published guidelines for organizations wishing to establish these “heating points», such as churches or municipal halls.

Multiple vulnerabilities

These services are widely used“, mostly “in areas of multiple vulnerabilities“, concentrating at the same time poverty, elderly people, addictions, explains Nick Poole, the executive director of Cilip. But libraries, under pressure to offer ever more services, are themselves faced with soaring heating and lighting costs. “It’s hard for them to survive.“laments Nick Poole.

Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government is funding a cap on utility billselectricity and gas this winter. But households and businesses still have to pay much more than a year ago, before theinvasion of Ukraine. Not left out to help the community of this underprivileged district of Ipswich, the small café installed in a corner of the library, offers free hot drinks and soups on Sundays.

We have customers who come in who are sad, and we help them as much as possible.“, explains Mark Dyer, the owner of the café. For Nick Poole, providing a welcoming and safe space for all is “natural extension of the role of libraries“. People who find themselves immersed in precariousness often refuse to talk about it, out of modesty or shame. “People don’t like to admit they have problems“, he points out.

Later that day, a group of women gather to knit. Next to the entrance, the clothes to be donated are stored in wardrobes. Vicki Mann, director of the Chantry Library, that they were already there before the current crisis, but it was mainly for children. Now there are clothes for adults. They go so fast that there are never enough of them.

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