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The Rise Of The Warming Shelter

Outdoor event management is one of the most complex logistical challenges for any business, as so much of the event’s success relies on your ability to prepare and expect the unexpected.

This is especially true in a place like the UK, where the climate and weather can change and turn exceptionally suddenly, and what can initially be a clement, temperate atmosphere perfect for the attendees can turn very suddenly.

Anyone who has attended a festival or outdoor trade event tends to prepare for that possibility; whilst attendees tend to dress for warm summery weather, they always make sure to pack a raincoat and Wellington boots just in case it gets far worse.

However, the responsibility for protecting delegates does not simply fall to them; organisers and land managers also must have contingencies in place to ensure that their event can continue even if the weather becomes less than ideal.

That can include, but is far from limited to having temporary shelter buildings on standby that can help provide shelter, warmth and security from adverse weather conditions.

Increasingly, as more extreme weather phenomena increase in regularity, these include shelters that protect from extreme heat and extreme cold.

As we enter a particularly frosty part of the calendar, it is worth exploring the history and evolution of the warming and cooling shelter, as well as how they can be a critical part of any temporary infrastructure your business uses, whether they organise events or not.


It is essential when discussing the concept of a warming shelter specifically, to not confuse it with other forms of temporary shelter that often include warmth as a consequence.

Throughout human history, there have been countless examples of ad-hoc shelters and solutions to ensure that people did not freeze to death in winter weather, both in terms of communal centres and village halls, as well as people opening their houses to the needy.

One of the first structured examples of such a concept is sanctuary, a concept that dates back to Ancient Greece but was most formalised in Mediaeval England from 1066 until 1623, used to both shelter the poor and, most famously, people accused of committing criminal acts.

The idea was that people who were on the run from the law could seek sanctuary and shelter in the church, where no one could necessarily pursue them aggressively and violently. This could help keep them sheltered from the elements and help to negotiate a solution outside the church.

In England, there were limits on exactly how long sanctuary could be offered, with people meant to leave the church or other shelter after 40 days, typically leaving the country afterwards.

The concept was outlawed after the Reformation after certain royal individuals were abusing the system to stay in the church for long periods, sometimes even bringing in huge amounts of furniture for the purpose. 

This was most infamously the case with Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Consort to Edward IV. She spent multiple stints in sanctuary during the War of the Roses and her insistence on having a lot of the comforts of home.

This undermined the concept as one intended to protect the poor from retribution or from the ravages of winter, however, it planted the seed that would bloom into the system of shelters that are seen today.

The Modern Use Of Warming Shelters

As society has shifted, the need to protect people from exposure is still as important as ever, especially in situations where people may not have or be able to reach shelter of their own in time.

Whilst there are a lot of different risks that can emerge in a disaster or after a war, one that ultimately leads to the most harm is exposure to the elements and the first uses of warming shelters in a modern context date back to the end of the Second World War.

Berlin was in ruins and in the process of being partitioned as part of an agreement between the main allied superpowers, and a lot of people had lost their homes, leaving them at an immediate risk of dying during the winter of 1945.

Alongside the delivery of aid to individuals, such as warm clothing and blankets to make the colder nights more comfortable, a series of warming centres were set up to be made available to the general public.

Exactly what these consisted of was unclear, but it is likely that this was a mix of repurposed and temporary accommodation that provided heating, warm food and a roof for people to sleep under at night temporarily.

This is, in effect, the system that has endured ever since. During times of particular strife, hardship or extreme weather, a warming shelter provides a last resort for people who do not have other means, particularly in places where other provisions are not easily accessible.

Whilst predominantly associated with disaster relief and helping people who are dislocated and/or homeless, this temporary concept has also seen use during flash flooding, sudden cold snaps and other weather phenomena.

Some events which otherwise would have to be cancelled outright due to unfortunate phenomena could continue safely thanks to the provision of strong, quickly set up temporary structures that helped keep people warm, dry and protected from the elements thanks to robust design.

As extreme weather phenomenon has increased in regularity, many organisations, both businesses and governments alike, are factoring in the establishment of both warming and cooling shelters to adapt to the particularly difficult climate conditions.

Whilst many of these shelters will be the adaptation of existing infrastructure, in other places where such capacity is nonexistent, prefabricated and easy-to-install shelters with appropriate equipment can help to fill the void and meet the capacity required.

They can also be used not only to protect people but also other assets, particularly if the closure of trade routes has led to an overspill and an acute lack of capacity for products and materials, ensuring that they are not left to spoil when exposed directly to the weather.


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