The Committee considered the following report:
“1.0 Purpose of Report or Summary of Main Issues
1.1 To provideP&C Committeewithan updateon plans tosupportvulnerablepeopleandfamiliesimpactedby the cost-of livingcrisisand who areat riskof negative health and social impacts of livingincold homes.
2.1 The Committee is askedto notethe contentsofthisreportand
i notethe Council’sexpanding rolein supportingvulnerable people/householdsimpactedby the cost-of-livingcrisis
ii notethe workunderwayto bringforward aprogramme ofwarm hubs(Warm Welcome/ Warm Spaces)in Council assetsand facilities during thiswinter period
iii considerthe civicleadership andconvening roleofthe Councilin bringingtogether acitywide programmeofsimilarsupport andin helpingraise awarenessandsignposting tosuch facilities
iv notethe supportprovided bythe MarCom’steam inhelping toraise awarenessand promotethe supportavailableincluding thedevelopment androllout ofthe #BelfastTogethernarrative.
3.0 Main report
3.1 Households andvulnerableindividualsare experiencingthe perfectstorm, emergingfrom aCovid-19pandemic, growingpressureson householdincomesand unprecedentedincreases ingasand electricitybills. The impactsof fuel povertyare feltina widerangeof ways,onphysicaland mental health,householdfinances,theeconomy andultimately onpeople'squalityof life.Despitethehardworkof manyagencies acrossthestatutory,community, voluntaryand private sectors,theimpactof fuelpoverty isintensifying withinBelfast and thewider region.
3.2 It isimportantto highlightthe growingpressures anddemand onreferrals toexistingsupport schemes including theAffordableWarmth Schemeand the BelfastWarm andWell programme both of which arealreadyexceedingcapacityandwe arestill toenter thewinter period.The Warm andWell programme has experienced a300% growthindemandsinceit wasfirst established.
3.3 Members will be aware of the recent decision taken by the SP&R Committee to allocate £1m towards a fuel hardship scheme across the city. Council officers are also engaging with the Department for Communities to explore what support can be brought forward for those most need during this winter period.
3.4 Members may be aware of the growing focus across the UK whereby public, voluntary and faith organisations are utilising local community assets and facilities as ‘warm hubs’ which are open for people to go to keep warm and often to refreshments and to take part in social activities. This initiative is being brought forward at pace in response to the inability of people and families to heat their home this winter.
3.5 Whilst recognising that ‘warm hubs’ should not be seen as an alternative to providing households with adequate resources to make heating their homes affordable, there is a growing number of councils across Northern Ireland who are already bringing forward similar plans for either setting up, supporting or highlighting/signposting the locations for ‘warm hubs’. Whilst not a new concept, as we enter the forthcoming winter months, this is a practical step to support people in communities who need it the most.
3.6 Within Belfast, the concept of warm hubs (or Warm Welcome/Spaces) is building momentum with a number of key services including, from a Council perspective, our leisure and community centres, putting in place plans to have locations within their facilities as warm hubs which will be made available for people to avail of during the colder months.
3.7 Work is also underway to programme a series of activities and events within these facilities (e.g. tea clubs, homework clubs, classes, wellness programmes etc) to encourage attendance and broaden the scope (to reduce stigma and encourage longer-term engagement). Discussions are also ongoing with other key statutory agencies and community service providers including NI Libraries, Museums, the Public Health Authority and Area Partnership Boards in relation to their plans/proposals. Officers have also utilised established community planning networks to gather information on relevant local initiatives which may be planned
3.8 Whilst the Council has a direct role in providing such facilities, it can also use its leadership and convening role to help coordinate a citywide programme and help identify, raise awareness and signpost to locations which may be available across the city through multiple platforms and channels. Members to note that officers are currently pulling together a short and easy-to-read information booklet which will outline the range of key support services available as well as advice, including energy savings tips, to help people mitigate the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis. Again, the intention would be that this information would be shared as widely as possible and using multiple channels.
Marketing and Communications
3.9 Our Marketing and Communications team is providing comms support around a number of initiatives that Council is rolling out in response to the cost-of-living crisis. Some of the initiatives have been referred to above and seek to support communities/households in need - for example our ‘warm spaces, warm welcomes’ programme in leisure/community centres; extra programming in community centres to encourage people, particularly seniors, into our community centres; community advice sessions including energy saving advice; fuel stamps; age-friendly events, and the Fuel Hardship Scheme. It is also important to note that ongoing communications activity and messaging around the circular economy, employment academies and support for businesses – all relate back to Council supporting the city/communities during this time of crisis.
3.10 Similar to our communications approach during Covid, our Marcomms team is providing signposting for our residents and ratepayers to relevant third-party services and resources available to help with the cost-of-living crisis, including the ‘warm spaces, warm welcomes’ scheme being delivered by our leisure partners, GLL. In the latest edition of City Matters, we included a dedicated section on where to go for support and advice in relation to the cost-of-living crisis. We have also developed a #BelfastTogether narrative so that relevant information can be ‘badged’ in a consistent, recognisable way. This is currently running across Council’s social media channels, and we will continue to regularly review and update our web content.
3.11 Earlier this month, we launched our own programme of ‘warm spaces, warm welcomes’ in community centres, involving the Lord Mayor in Marcomms activity including the Lord Mayor’s video blog, and our Marcomms activity has also been highlighting the positive work going on to support older people in our communities including information sessions and age-friendly events. We are planning more PR and Marcomms activity to promote this work and encourage citizen engagement in the coming weeks. As detailed at Appendix 1, available on mod.gov, is some illustrative artwork developed for the upcoming drop-in sessions.
3.12 Members to note that a core group of internal officers from across council, including e.g. CNS, Climate and Community Planning will be brought together to ensure that the internal consideration and operational planning of future support is coordinated and synergies maximised. MarCom’s will continue to provide advice, support and leadership on the associated comms and how this can fit with the #BelfastTogether narrative.
Financial & Resource Implications
3.13 The financial implications contained within this report will be funded through existing departmental budgets and/or through possible financial or in-kind contributions from partners towards programming activity.
Equality or Good Relations Implications/
Rural Needs Implications
The Committee noted the update and recommendations and detailed at 2.0 of the report.