diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 26, 2022

This advert for 'Warm Havens' has appeared along Stratford High Street. It's Newham's scheme to give residents somewhere to go if they're struggling to heat their homes.

And I thought
a) I wonder where they are?
b) I bet I know where they are.
c) How has society come to this?

It's shocking that we now live in a country where millions of people can't afford their heating bills. Many have always struggled, but the energy crisis has boosted gas and electricity prices to such a ridiculous extent that costs now constitute a cripplingly high proportion the household budget. The energy cap for this January would have been three times higher than last January had the government not stepped in, and even twice as much is proving untenable on top of the skyrocketing cost of living. We've slipped incredibly fast into an era where the thermostat is to be feared and pulling on an extra jumper is the default rather than a thrifty saving.

Hence the advent of warm havens, somewhere non-judgemental to sit in relative comfort while the council pays for the heating. But Newham's advert doesn't tell you where they are, only to go to a website or ring a phone number.

And the Newham website doesn't tell you where they are either. Instead it provides a link to a map, and not a static map either but an interactive Microsoft-generated map of the borough with blobs on, and if you click on it a scrollable list of nearby havens appears with opening times in a thin table. It's a clever solution I'm sure some tech team is very pleased with but not exactly straightforward, and I suspect beyond the IT capabilities of some of the target audience. Give us the clever map, sure, but also FFS just give us a list.

If you click around the map you soon discover what I suspected would be the case which is that most of Newham's warm havens are in fact libraries. They're already open, they have public seating and plenty of reading material and they've long been the ideal place to hide away from grim conditions at home. But at no point before clicking on the map does Newham's campaign actually suggest you might want to go to a library, that's key information hidden beneath multiple layers of tech.

Even a link to the webpage for Newham's library opening hours would have been an improvement. I can sum up that table as simply as this.
• All Newham's libraries are open until 8pm Mondays to Saturdays.
- Canning Town, East Ham, Forest Gate and Stratford libraries open at 9am.
- North Woolwich and Plaistow libraries open at 9.30am.
- Beckton, Custom House, Green Street and Manor Park libraries open at 10am.

• All Newham's libraries are open between noon and 4pm on Sundays.
There are six other warm havens, mostly in community centres, and only open for a few hours a week. Again you could click around the map to discover what they are or someone could produce a simple list, like this. I've ordered it by day of the week because sometimes what you want to know is "what's open today?", not "where's my nearest?"
Monday: Trinity Community Centre (5-8pm)
Tuesday: Forest Gate Lodge & Katherine Road Community Centre (5-8pm)
Wednesday: Woodman Community Centre (9am-noon)
Thursday: Trinity Community Centre (5-8pm)
Friday: Jack Cornwell Community Centre (5-8pm)
Saturday: Trinity Community Centre (2-5pm)
Sunday: Katherine Road Community Centre (3-6pm) & Jeyes Community Centre (6-9pm)

Tower Hamlets have done a better job of listing their Warm Banks, again by day of the week.

I think the underlying message is don't get cold on Fridays or Saturdays. But they don't mention libraries, sorry Idea Stores, which ought to be an obvious alternative. And I only spotted this graphic on Twitter which isn't somewhere the old and poor necessarily hang out, and absolutely none of this appears on the council website.

Elsewhere in London I see Greenwich have bought more furniture to improve the capacity of their libraries and Lewisham have a scheme called Warm Welcomes, although I'm not quite sure how a brewery and a swimming pool fit in. Other boroughs will do/should do/probably have done something similar.

We're not yet into the coldest part of the winter when warm havens might be a lifesaver and publicity might be better organised, so well done to Newham for being upfront with its campaign. But please don't hide the key information where the affected might never find it, make sure your publicity includes a good old-fashioned list.

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