A surge of Arctic air causing sub-zero temperatures across the UK is poised to send demand for warm spaces surging, and the archbishop of Canterbury has urged people not to despair in the face of “real hardship and pain”.
The weather system moving quickly south from Norway, nicknamed the Troll of Trondheim, will result in colder weather for at least a week, the Met Office has forecast, as a network of “warm hubs” said it had seen 80,000 people use its facilities in the last week.
Justin Welby – who is backing the Warm Welcome campaign, which involves thousands of faith groups, charities and businesses letting people in to keep warm as energy bills rise – said: “This huge surge of demand demonstrates the real need for warm spaces all across the country. Temperatures are dropping, bills are rising, and far too many of our friends and neighbours are facing real hardship and pain. This is a crisis, but we must not fall into despair. There is action we can take.”
A major incident was declared in Sheffield on Wednesday after temperatures plummeted in a suburb that has been without gas for five days. About 2,000 homes in the Stannington area were affected on Friday when a burst water main damaged a gas pipe.
The UK Health Security Agency has issued a cold weather alert saying that from Wednesday evening all regions of England will experience severe cold weather. It has warned of “serious consequences for health” and said older people and those with heart or lung conditions could be particularly at risk.
It said anyone with a pre-existing medical condition should try to heat the rooms they use most, such as the living and bedroom, to at least 18C and keep bedroom windows closed at night.
The Met Office expects temperatures across the UK to remain around or below zero well into next week.
The Warm Welcome campaign said it was providing more than 3,000 venues – including theatres, cathedrals, fire stations and sports clubs – where people could keep warm this month. Many venues are preparing Christmas meals and events for those struggling with the cost of living crisis. The campaign says every town and city now has a venue.
On Wednesday a dozen people attended the warm hub at the United Reformed church in Wooler, Northumberland, which has secured a £1,000 grant to heat a room to a “toasty” temperature for three hours, three times a week, and also offers soup.
“Mostly they are older members, 65-plus, but today we had a young family in with their toddler,” said Felicity Barker, a community minister at the church, who is staffing the hub with volunteers. “People start coming for the warmth but they enjoy the fellowship so much they come for the company.”
The volunteers had enjoyed “trying to outdo each other with the different soups” and the atmosphere had been “really lovely”, Barker said. “As people get colder and more worried about putting the heating on, demand will increase,” she said.
The actor Michael Sheen, who is backing the campaign, said: “Across the country, it has been left to local community spaces, libraries, churches, cafes and halls to provide support to those who are struggling to heat their homes.
“Whilst it’s unacceptable that these spaces should be needed, I find great hope and encouragement to know that there are nearly 3,000 of them that have responded to make sure that no one is left out in the cold. It shows some of our community spirit and character at its best.”
• This article was amended on 8 December 2022. An earlier version said that Public Health England has issued a cold weather alert. This organisation was replaced by the UK Health Security Agency in October 2021.