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Warm hearts: how to support those in need this winter

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Warm hearts: how to support those in need this winter

Angela Caley is Operations Manager for Linking Lives UK - a national charity working with local churches and Christian organisations to address loneliness and social isolation, particularly among older people. In this blog, Angela gives advice on how churches and individuals can support people who feel isolated and forgotten over the winter months.
.I am a naturally cold person. I don’t mean metaphorically. I mean literally. Ask anyone who knows me. For six months of the year, they’ll find me with a scarf, body warmer and gloves – and that’s just in the house! Joking aside, I do feel the cold. And I have to say, I really hate it.

But research has shown that the cold affects more than just our hands and feet. It can also affect how we feel mentally and socially. Drops in temperature, along with shortened daylight hours, can all contribute to ‘the winter blues’. This can leave us feeling demotivated, unsociable, more isolated and even depressed.
But the opposite is also true. When we experience warmth on our skin it triggers a signal to our brains, leading to the release of oxytocin—a remarkable hormone that enhances mental wellbeing, instilling a sense of comfort and contentment in both our minds and bodies.
So, the question is, how can churches and individuals respond to the change in temperature in an effective and meaningful way?
One of the best responses I’ve seen lately is from churches offering Warm Welcome Spaces. The Warm Welcome Campaign started in Winter 2022 in response to the cost of living crisis, aiming to offer exactly what it says on the tin – a warm space to those with a cold home. But also, a friendly, welcoming face to talk to. In 2022, the campaign saw over 7,000 spaces receiving around 2.4 million visits over the winter months and the plan is to keep opening more spaces, year on year. That’s pretty incredible.
For those who have visited a Warm Welcome Space, there has been a greater benefit than just keeping warm. Many visitors feel a sense of belonging, and new connections significantly reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
This is not surprising perhaps. We’re designed to have meaningful connections with other people. But this simple truth can be overlooked in our busy lives.
And it is often the simplest things that make the biggest difference to those who are feeling isolated or forgotten over the winter. Here are a few practical tips for reaching out over the winter months:
Start with someone you know

Most of us don’t need to go searching for someone who’s finding the winter difficult. We could probably name five off the top of our heads. Spend a few minutes thinking who you could intentionally reach out to.
Include them in something you already do

Where do you go over the course of a week? A church group? A walk around the block? Out for a coffee? Why not invite them along with you and go together?
Listen on purpose

Although we don’t like to admit it, this is somewhere we all have room for improvement. Listening actively is a skill that takes practice, just like anything else. Linking Lives UK offers training especially for this and partners with Warm Welcome Spaces to train their volunteers. The Good Conversations training is for anybody who’d like to be better at hosting positive conversations. 
Invite them in for a cup of tea
The colder season is a great time to open your home, church, or community space to people in need. It’s also a time when people who are alone feel even more isolated. An invitation, even if they don’t accept, shows someone is thinking of them and they’re not forgotten. It can mean the world.
Winter doesn’t have to be a time of doom and gloom. It is an opportunity for us to show intentional hospitality as well as meeting the basic human need to keep warm. Even if it’s just for one person. God doesn’t ask us to solve the world’s problems. He does ask us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. And sometimes it’s in the most practical of ways.
Angela Caley

Angela Caley

Operations Manager, Linking Lives UK

The winter doesn’t have to be a time of doom and gloom. It is an opportunity for us to show intentional hospitality as well as meeting the basic human need to keep warm.
Angela Caley, Linking Lives UK

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