Libraries in Suffolk will be stepping up to offer help and support to households in difficulty over the winter months as the cost-of-living crisis tightens its grip.

And other public attractions, such as museums, could join in to, with the idea being to provide 'warm banks' where people can go if they are struggling to pay rocketing energy bills to heat their home.

Suffolk Libraries, the charity that runs the county’s library service, has been speaking to local retailers about the possibility of offering free warm drinks and looking at funding for social supermarkets.

‘Kindness racks’ will also be provided where people can donate warm winter clothes for people to collect.

The energy price cap is set to rise to £3,549 in October, putting increased pressure on already strained household budgets.

Bruce Leeke, the charity’s chief executive, highlighted schemes already in operation to provide support, including weekly bags of fruit and vegetables on offer at Gainsborough Library in Ipswich for £2 and a Pride and Periods initiative providing free menstrual items.

He also said rural libraries, such as at Framlingham, were running community fridges and several sites were working with local food banks.

Demand for free computer and internet access by people looking for jobs, claiming benefits and getting online was set to increase, he believed, while staff were experienced in dealing with enquiries for financial support and directing people to where they could find help.

He said many libraries also hosted regular drop-in sessions giving people easier access to help from organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau along with support for digital skills, financial literacy or applying for jobs.

Mr Leeke said: “We already provide a wide range of services that offer a lifeline to people on low incomes, or those who are struggling with the increasing cost of living.

“We are currently making plans to ensure Suffolk Libraries can help and support even larger parts of the community during these increasingly challenging times.

“We are already planning to offer our libraries as warm and welcoming places where anyone can come during the colder months.”

Meanwhile, action group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE), which fought to save libraries in the county from closure, has written to Essex County Council asking what plans Essex Library Services has to deal with the crisis.

A SOLE spokesperson said: “The coming months will be a very difficult time for so many vulnerable people, there will be those choosing between heating and eating.

“Libraries have a vital role to play as somewhere to go away from the cold. Thank goodness the people of Essex rose up against library closures and these refuges will still be an option this winter.”

The group has called for increased opening hours and has called on the Government to provide extra funding to support library services.

Councils in Birmingham, Bristol, Aberdeen and Glasgow are among local authorities around the UK looking to use public places to provide havens for those who were struggling with their bills this winter.

However, many museums around the country have expressed concerns that they're struggling to meet their own energy bills, never mind providing a refuge for others.

Lucy Maxwell, museum development officer at Suffolk County Council, said she was not aware of any museums in the county that were planning to offer 'warm banks'.

She said some museums closed during the winter and may not necessarily open to provide somewhere for people to go.

She added their busy holiday season in August was just coming to an end and they would just be starting to plan for how they were going to sustain themselves through to next year.

She said: "I don't think museums quite know what their next bill will be. I would not say that many of them know what they are going to do, whether they will be able to offer themselves as somewhere for people to go.

"I don't know of any museums that are planning to change their opening times to help people."

Anne-Marie Hogan, director of the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket, said she was not aware of a 'warm banks' scheme, but her museum would be happy to help.

She said: "If there is an initiative and we can help in any way, we will do so."