As bills could soar above £4000 this winter, plans to open public buildings as “warm banks” to provide the most vulnerable with heated spaces could become a devastating reality.

A number of local authorities and councillors across Scotland are already considering ensuring that heated public buildings are available to prevent people from suffering in the winter months.

A Fife Council community development manager has been in talks with community centres and libraries “to look at what support is needed for priority locations for warm spaces.” Similarly, in Dundee the council is looking into a community “cosy spaces” scheme.

The term emerged earlier this year when Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis suggested the UK would need a heating equivalent of food banks as energy prices continue a staggering rise.

However, the idea itself has been implemented in other countries such as Canada, where ‘warming centres’ were implemented in Toronto last year to provide a space for the city’s homeless to access a “safe, warm indoor place to rest and access snacks”.

Age Scotland’s chief executive Brian Sloan said it was encouraging that local authorities are “actually proactively” looking into the idea, but does not think they should be labelled "warm banks". 

“We’ve got people that will be in desperate need,” he said. “There will be fatalities, people won’t heat their homes because they cannot afford to. That is a hard, really sad fact.

“So, yes if we can get them into spaces with heating, using assets that are underutilized anyway, we can keep them social, and healthy.”

READ MORE: UK government inaction on energy bills will lead to deaths warns Nicola Sturgeon

HeraldScotland: Brian SloanBrian Sloan

Mr Sloan raised concerns that the growing living costs is driving people, particularly the elderly, towards “higher degrees of loneliness and isolation” as they cut back on social spending.

He added: “People are already experiencing this in summer when we see the lights of the day and when heating isn’t required but the cost of bills is still rising.

“We’ve got tens of thousands of people that are very near that breadline and it’s going to drive them into poverty.

“What is that going to do for the health of these people? We know the impacts of loneliness and isolation on health when you now add that affect mental health, the worries, the stress that that is going to cause – it’s frightening.”

He, therefore, warned the spaces would need to offer more than just warmth. He urged for the spaces to have other purposes such as activities that encourage people to use them and benefit both mentally and physically past just being forced to seek the out for heat.

“This vision of older people sitting in a room, just sitting and keeping warm, I think is back to a wartime vision actually.”

“These spaces can be one way of keeping people warm and healthy, but we're also keeping them physically and mentally engaged and using social spaces which will help reduce loneliness and isolation.”

One councillor pushing for the idea still hopes the government intervenes with an energy cap freeze so that there are no requirements for a “warmth bank”.

READ MORE: Energy bills could rise before expected October cap rise as 65,000 back Gordon Brown emergency budget call

HeraldScotland:

Stirling councillor Alasdair Macpherson said: “This is going to be a national emergency if there are no political interventions.

The independent politician has spoken to council officials to get the “ball moving” on ensuring these spaces are available should there be a lack of action from Westminster – and he would like them to be open by November when temperatures start to drop.

He said: “I would like to think in the event of inaction from the regulator and the Tory Government, that these will be part of the local communities

“We are talking about church halls, libraries, community centres, schools. All these buildings are already using public money so they should be thrown open in the event of a national emergency.”

“If this cap rises to 4200, people just cannot afford that so you will have millions of people throughout the UK that won’t be able to pay their bills.”

Neil Cowan of the Poverty Alliance also emphasised that these spaces should not be a necessity as “everyone should have the financial means to stay warm in their own home”.

He said: “People in Scotland believe in compassion and helping their neighbour, so it’s no surprise that the idea of ‘warmth banks’ is being considered - we don’t want to see people ​suffering alone in cold homes.

“The common humanity shown by those who provide crisis support to people in need should act as an example to our politicians and corporations. Their failure to tackle fuel poverty in this wealthy society is a shocking injustice.”