Derry Council venues could be 'warm banks' as energy bills soar

Derry City and Strabane City council will establish ‘warm banks’ in council owned community centres, civic buildings and leisure facilities subject to funding after a motion brought by Aontú councillor Emmet Doyle was passed.

Warm banks are safe, warm places where local people who can’t afford to heat their homes can come and spend time.

However, not all councillors agreed with the motion, with one councillor describing it as being ‘like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.’

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Addressing the hybrid chamber, Councillor Doyle said: “We all worry on behalf of our constituents what might be coming down the road this winter particularly with Stormont not being up and running and the attitude of Westminster towards helping people out.

Templemore Sports Complex. DER2152GS – 006

“Warm banks, or welcoming places as I call them, are now becoming widespread, particularly in England where a lot of councils are setting them up because it is necessary in many cases.

“I don’t want this to be taken that we are trying to scare people into thinking something is coming and then doesn’t. I would be the first to be delighted if we didn’t need these.

“I do worry about people who do face sitting at home in the cold, particularly old people or families with young children and I do think, despite the fact that it is going to cost a lot of money, I do think we have to take the opportunity to plan ahead so we aren’t reacting to what may be the reality in the coming winter months.”

Giving his party’s support, Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson spoke of the work already being carried out in the city and district by the community sector.

Aontú Colr. Emmet Doyle.

He added: “Our community sector, as well as our council have always been quick to respond to the needs of the people of our city and district and I don’t foresee any different approach in respect to the crisis that we are facing into coming into the winter months.

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“The motion requests for extra finance for heating centres from the Executive, now that’s a must. We need additional support if we are to be able to stand up and support people through the winter but there is no Executive and that’s a very sad reality.

“I’m not entirely sure who councillor Doyle is requesting we write to, I would suggest writing to the leader of the DUP. All Executive parties are all too familiar with the pressures people are facing and the pressures council and the community sector are facing. The only party that’s not listening is the DUP and they need reminded of that.”

Describing the outlook as ‘grim’ and although supporting the motion, SDLP councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr said: “Of course we need to support people and we definitely need to intervene but during the day when people are going to get warm and then go back to freezing homes later in the evening, it is in these conditions that people are getting sick.

Many will struggle to pay heating bills this winter.
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“So warm banks are not the solution, they can help, the real solution people need is immediate government intervention but we have no Executive to intervene or write to. If we are honest with ourselves it is unlikely the council finances could absorb the additional costs of staff and centres that is required.”

Calling the motion ‘well meaning’, Independent councillor Paul Gallagher stated he wouldn’t be supporting it.

“This motion is saying we want a communal radiator and for people to come out of their houses, huddle round a radiator all day then go back to their cold houses and that’s what will happen,” he said. “If we allow it, in the long run it will cause far more deaths due to the lack of heating than any warm bank will prevent.

“We can’t support going down this road because we will be eroding the basic human right to a proper home that is properly heated.”

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Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly.

Supporting the motion, People Before Profit councillor Shaun Harkin commented: “The fact that we are here discussing opening warm banks, welcoming places and warming centres for people is a sign of absolute political failure in terms of our governments.

“I genuinely believe we have to do everything we can right now to try and protect people because that’s why we are going to support this motion. I don’t want anyone to freeze to death in their homes in the coming months, I won’t have that on my conscience.”

Abstaining from the vote, Independent councillor Gary Donnelly gave his reasons: “I won’t be supporting this motion because I think it allows everybody who should be on the hook to get off it.

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“There’s a public responsibility from government bodies and it’s not being used. There’s a moral responsibility from the churches who are very rich organisations.

“This is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, there’s a class war that’s being waged vigorously against working class people and this is not going to sort the problem out.”

As the debate came to a close the Mayor, councillor Sandra Duffy welcomed the motion saying: “It is work I am involved in particularly within the community sector at this time.

“Everywhere I go I am talking to people about the cost of living emergency they are facing. People are frightened, people are anxious. They are really concerned about what they are facing into over the next number of months.

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“Morally as the Mayor I feel I should be doing something and as a council we should be doing something, whatever we have within our limited powers to do we should absolutely be doing them.”

The substantive motion which will also see council work with community partners and Translink to coordinate community transport to and from welcoming places passed.

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter