Community groups and organisations across County Durham are being invited to apply for financial support to become Welcome Spaces.
Durham County Council is working alongside the County Durham Community Foundation (CDCF) to offer funding to the voluntary and community sector to create a network of places where people feel safe, warm, and included.
Alongside community groups and organisations, the authority’s Family Hubs and 39 library buildings will also join the scheme.
Both the council and CDCF are contributing to the funding, with a combined pot of £280,000 available to support organisations which can apply for a grant of up to £3,000.
Welcome Spaces will replace Warm Spaces which were established in October 2022 following significant rises in energy costs and concerns that County Durham residents would struggle to heat their homes over the winter months.
An evaluation of last year’s programme suggested the initial aim of helping people to stay well and warm was not the only benefit to come from the scheme.
Feedback highlighted that a range of additional support was provided on matters ranging from finance, housing, mental health and wellbeing to drugs and alcohol.
Cllr Alan Shield, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for equality and inclusion, said: “Following the success of last year’s Warm Spaces, we have now broadened support to residents who may be feeling socially isolated and emotionally vulnerable, as well as needing somewhere warm to go through the winter due to the continuing high energy costs and cost-of-living.
“This funding will help to ensure as many residents as possible can benefit from these safe and welcoming environments.
“We would encourage groups to apply for a grant so we can work together for the benefit of our communities.”
CDCF chief executive Michelle Cooper said: “Last year we were able to fund 137 Warm Spaces, meaning over 16,500 people were able to access warm, inclusive and welcoming spaces during the winter months.
“I encourage all community groups supporting County Durham residents to visit our website, or talk to a member of the team, about how this grant can be accessed and used to make a difference in County Durham over the coming months.”
Participants in the Welcome Spaces scheme will be asked to sign up to a simple charter, setting out standards for the scheme, and to display a window poster highlighting their involvement.
Community groups and organisations that receive support will also be offered training on a range of topics, including basic mental health, food safety and safeguarding, with grants able to cover a range of expenses such as utility bills, volunteer expenses or staff time, equipment and furniture.
Once community Welcome Spaces are confirmed, they will be added to Locate, an online directory allowing residents to connect with local services in their community.
Key information including opening times, accessibility and any other facilities available, such as the offer of hot drinks or wi-fi, will be highlighted to ensure people can access their nearest space.
Organisations wishing to offer a Welcome Space can email [email protected] to sign up to the charter. Details of these will also be added to Locate.