Community champions the length and breadth of North Yorkshire have been doing their bit to help others during the Coronavirus lockdown.
In Volunteers Week (1 to 7 June), we are celebrating the selfless acts of kindness that have made a huge difference to the lives of people in North Yorkshire, including some of the county’s most vulnerable residents, since the outbreak of Covid-19.
We have been working with 23 community organisations to match those without family, friends or neighbours to support from the voluntary sector.
As a result, more than 1,500 volunteers have been helping thousands of people every week with shopping, collecting prescriptions or just having someone to talk to as part of this network of community support organisations. There are also countless examples of neighbours looking out for each other and an army of volunteers who have formed groups where they live.
Those volunteers include Joanna Chambers from Marton, who is shielding to protect her nine-year-old son, William.
During lockdown Joanna has been helping by making regular befriending calls to others who are self-isolating through the community support organisation in Ryedale.
“My befriending experience has been so positive as I have been able to reach out to people I would never have met before at a time when I felt particularly isolated and unable to take positive action due to my own shielding situation,” she said.
Mick Hawes is another community champion who has been making a difference where he lives. He runs a football team in Sherburn, the members of which pooled their subs together to pay for hampers for those less fortunate than themselves.
Such was the success – the team raised more than £1,000 in a single day – that they were asked to get involved with the Sherburn Coronavirus Aid Group, helping with deliveries and leaflet drops.
“I think we kind of get tied up with the negative stuff that goes on in the world,” Mick said. “We forget that there are some wonderful folk and when the chips are down people are willing to roll up their sleeves. We’ve had a wonderful response and some of the offers of support and the lengths of people have gone to have been nothing short of remarkable.”
In Bedale, John Walker would normally be out and about volunteering with North Yorkshire’s countryside service, helping maintain public rights of way and supporting nature conservation.
Instead, he is helping with the local Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group as part of the helpline team. This involves putting people in touch with other volunteers who can help with shopping, collecting prescriptions and often just being there to talk to people.
“Beyond the many tragedies that coronavirus has brought, it has been heart-warming to see communities come together to help each other locally and it has been a privilege to be able to witness the steady rhythm of the natural world continue to move on through the seasons,” John said.
“I think everyone’s lives have changed forever and our world has changed completely. It’s shown us how much we need to work together.”
Gill Sayer volunteers with Ripon Community House. She is also involved with the community effort in Markington, where a group of villagers including the church and shop have been identifying and meeting the needs of residents in their area. Despite shielding to protect herself from coronavirus, Gill has been working on plans for a meal delivery service.
Gill said: “I'm medically shielded but wanted to do something useful, and I had this idea that even if I couldn’t shop for the ingredients, if somebody needed food I could cook it. Then somebody could pick it up from my door step and take it where it is needed.
“So in order to do that I volunteered to do some research to make sure it was safe and work on what we might need. As yet we haven’t had any calls for that, which is absolutely great. Because people have been getting such wonderful support there hasn’t been a need for the meal deliveries yet, but when this is all over we still might need to do something.
“I do miss the regular volunteering. I went to Ripon Community House to do a computer course about 12 years ago, and then fell in love with the place. Hopefully they will be able to find me some work to do.
“When you volunteer you realise there is a lot of goodness out there, and given the opportunity to help people do enjoy it. It gives you a sense of wellbeing and that has been so obvious in the village, and of course up and down the country.”
County Council Leader Cllr Carl Les said: “This Volunteers Week, we want to thank every single person who is helping someone in North Yorkshire during the current pandemic.
“If you are volunteering as part of the community support organisation network, you’re at the heart of our response in making sure that nobody is left without essential supplies.
“We are also recognising those in towns and villages across the county who have set up groups where they live and individuals who have looked out for and supported neighbours during these challenging times.
“You might not consider yourself a volunteer, but you’re making a huge difference and you are a valued part of Team North Yorkshire as we work together to make sure nobody feels alone.”
If you are being shielded and need help getting food and medication, we will continue to support people in this group. Despite some changes to lockdown restrictions anyone at higher risk from coronavirus remains vulnerable and should still stay at home as much as possible.
Those who need help with shopping, prescriptions and other essentials but don’t have anyone to call on can contact North Yorkshire County Council’s customer service centre on 01609 780780. The centre is open seven days a week 8am to 5.30pm. For more information, go to www.northyorks.gov.uk/coronavirus