Schools and care homes opening to keep families warm on Christmas Day

24 December 2022, 07:00 | Updated: 25 January 2023, 15:16

Rebecca Curtis headteacher of Ark Alvin Academy
Rebecca Curtis headteacher of Ark Alvin Academy. Picture: LBC

By Fraser Knight

Hundreds of ‘warm spaces’ across the country have opened their doors in recent months to offer warmth and food to people struggling with rising costs.

But during the festive period, LBC has found schools and care homes are set to be among the places that will extend the offer to open on Christmas Day itself, with a full turkey dinner being laid out by some.

In North London, Ark Elvin Academy started opening its canteen to the community a number of weeks ago as it noticed a need for the provision among families of pupils.

Its headteacher, Rebecca Curtis, said she thought it was a no-brainer to open at Christmas too.

“It feels like we are in a crisis that is just as acute as the pandemic was and yet it’s not necessarily getting the recognition that the pandemic did.

Temperatures plummeted in mid-December
Temperatures plummeted in mid-December. Picture: Getty

“We know that many of our families, who in the past have managed to get by, are really struggling now. We’ve had more applications to our hardship fund than we’ve ever had before; we’ve had more families contacting us to say they’re struggling.

“As we saw the level of need, we realised that Christmas would be an obvious day for us to open - it seems like such a shame to have the school empty on a day when so many families need a warm space.”

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Ms Curtis said that every week they’ve seen hundreds of people coming by to get warmth and a home-cooked meal since they started the initiative with the local food bank, Sufra.

With the help of pupils, volunteering in the kitchen, the school and Sufra provide a three course meal and takeaway leftovers for families in Brent, and say they plan to make more than 200 turkey dinners on Christmas Day.

'Frightening' reality: Households unable to stay warm enough

Anaam Hussein works at the charity, and as she showed us around the kitchen attached to Ark Elvin Academy’s canteen, she told us she’s concerned about how much people are struggling to make ends meet.

“I think it’s unreal that we’re in England - in London, one of the richest cities in the world - and people are relying on their children’s’ schools to open up for Christmas dinner.

“We know it’s expensive, the holidays come and we get a lot more families coming in struggling because obviously children don’t usually eat three meals at home - usually they’re at school for most of the day - and that’s when they come to us looking for help.”

In recent months, a growing number of public buildings like churches, libraries and community centres have joined the Warm Spaces initiative, offering people a place to go to get out of the cold, as many struggle to afford increasing energy bills.

LBC has found some care homes are now also joining the scheme and, like a handful of schools, are also extending the offer to Christmas Day.

Marilou Bree is the care manager at Alexandra Court Care Home in Leeds and told LBC: “I just thought our heating is on 24/7 anyway so it doesn't make sense to not use that initiative and to invite people in to use the warmth that we have.

“We’ve had a few people get in touch to ask us if they can come and sit with the residents for Christmas dinner, many of them are elderly themselves so they can maybe come and make some friends too.

“I want Alexandra Court to be a really important part of the community. It’s sad that we’ve gotten to this point - it is a difficult time, it’s just important that we do our bit.”