Councillor Amanda De Ryk urged residents struggling with heating and experiencing social isolation to attend one of Lewisham’s community-run ‘Warm Welcome’ sessions.

By working with local partners, Lewisham Council has identified a list of places where residents can go to keep warm and to escape loneliness during the cold months ahead.

These spaces, commonly known as ‘warm banks’, offer residents hot drinks and some also provide hot food.

Amanda De Ryk, Councillor for Lewisham’s Blackheath ward and Cabinet Member for Finance and Strategy, invited the News Shopper to The Sydenham Centre - where Sydenham Arts organises weekly creative sessions for residents in need of warmth and who would like to get to know their local community better.

‘Sydenham Winter Welcome’ grew out of local businesses coming together in September, as they wanted to find ways to support their local community through the winter.

News Shopper:

Amanda said the currently difficulty is due to demand “starting to grow”, and their real concern is that it “isn’t going to stop”.

Amanda told the News Shopper: “What was more concerning is that traditionally, we see a small number of people who owe quite a lot of money.

“At the moment what we are seeing is a lot of people owing a very small amount of money and that indicates people are really struggling to pay.”

Amanda said the ‘Warm Welcomes’ available to residents at public spaces such as The Sydenham Centre were extremely important, as she added that people can attend “without any stigma and sit down and talk to other people with a nice cup of tea.”

She added: “They can enjoy a few hours where they don’t have to worry about their bills.

“People were very isolated during Covid and there were people who were made poorer by Covid-19.

“Part of the problem we are seeing now is that this is on top of Covid-19. We are seeing ‘Covid-scarring’.

“This means higher demand, more strain on families and children who have had a very disruptive education.

“Ultimately, what we are seeing is a pandemic of poverty.”

Amanda told the News Shopper the council was seeing a “large rise in homelessness” and “a really big rise in referrals for debt counselling.”

Carol Lee, a resident of Sydenham for forty-four years, went to her first ‘Winter Welcome’ at The Sydenham Centre on December 5.

Carol said she only had her smart meter installed in response to the energy crisis and rising bills.

She said: “It does put you off turning things on because it’s constantly saying how much you are paying.

“I think my energy costs have doubled.

“It is going to cost me twice as much as it did before.”

Carol was taking part in the Upcycle Greeting Cards session and said this was the first time she had come to a ‘Winter Welcome’.

Carol, who lives on her own, said being able to attend a session where you could meet others in the community was very important because “there is a lot of lonely people out there.”

She added: “If you go every week you get to know people which is really nice.”

Residents wanting to know where they can find the nearest warm bank can visit Lewisham Council’s cost-of-living support page.

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