A popular Ipswich business has joined a network of warm banks across the county to help support those struggling in the winter months.

In an attempt to combat those suffering the cold, a series of warm banks are opening up which will offer access to hot drinks, a microwave, Wi-Fi, charging points, and toys for children.

Ipswich resident Emma Carr comes to the Geek Retreat in Upper Brook Street once a week and said it will become a "lifeline" for her three children during the winter.

"I've barely turned my heating on so far. The only time it goes on is when we need hot water," said Emma.

"I've got my 11-month-old and my five- and six-year-olds. Obviously, the older two can communicate the cold a lot more than my youngest.

"Coming somewhere where I don't have to spend a large amount of money heating up my house will be a lifeline."

Owner Sharon Lockhart said their motivation for entering the scheme was to utilise the resources they have to help others.

"We all feel a bit helpless at the moment, but we do have the luxury of having this space," she said.

"Why wouldn't we do it? If it helps even just one person, why not?"

Geek Retreat has recently adopted the Suspended Coffee scheme, whereby people can donate the price of a coffee to someone who can't afford to buy their own in future.

Sharon said she has had customers enter just to buy one or two coffees for other people and hopes this goodwill continues as demand increases through winter.

She added: "It's not just about being cold, winter is hard anyway. Being here, you can come in as a total stranger and you always leave with a friend."

One person who's experienced this community spirit first-hand is 34-year-old Joel Mayo who is considered to be one of the Geek Retreat regulars.

"I come in a lot and I feel accepted with my disability as I'm autistic. There's always lots of stuff to do and it gives me the chance to meet new people," said Joel.

"I'm going to be coming in more in winter because if I wasn't here, I think I'd just be bored out of my mind."

Keen crochetier Donna Cowburn, a senior radiographer at Ipswich Hospital, comes into the Geek Retreat on her days off on Thursday.

"It feels like a second home and a second family," she said.

"It's definitely going to become more important for people during winter. For the crochet group, we'll probably be making jumpers to keep people warm."

Seconding the importance of a low-pressure community environment, Gemma Skipper has been coming to the store for the last six months with her eight-month-old Archie.

Gemma said she goes to other baby groups, but finds the atmosphere at the Geek Retreat is different as it gives the parents some time to explore their common interests.

She added: "There's no pressure to buy anything, especially if you can't afford it.

"I've seen people come in here to just play on the Xbox and PlayStation to be around people. They don't have to buy anything but the staff will still come over and say hi."

Geek Retreat owner Sharon added that she's definitely encouraging other businesses in Ipswich to consider joining the scheme.

She said: "I know there are churches and libraries open, but each place that joins will appeal to a certain group of people.

"For example, we're one of the only non-alcoholic places in town that stays open till 10pm at night. The more people we scoop up as a network, the better."

Ipswich's Labour candidate Jack Abbott recently urged the leaders of local councils to "go further" in providing additional respite for the winter, suggesting the establishment of heating shelters across Ipswich and Suffolk.

He said: "Geek Retreat was the first to come forward to volunteer their space for this scheme. It's so important that there are warm and welcoming spaces for people who need them."