A community is coming together today (Friday, 31 July) to celebrate their triumphs over the Covid-19 pandemic – virtually.

The Esk Valley Virtual Rurality Event is bringing together residents to mark the innovative ways they have supported each other during the challenge of the pandemic.

Our Stronger Communities has brought the event together jointly with Community Catalysts, North York Moors National Park and community and volunteer partners in the Esk Valley to showcase innovation and community response. 

Stronger Communities Delivery Manager Paddy Chandler said: “This event emerged from a collaboration of community and voluntary sector representatives from the Esk Valley during the depths of the initial pandemic. 

“It was clear that in the Esk Valley, as with many communities countrywide, that the response, commitment, and innovation of local volunteers and groups was something very special despite the vast challenges. We wanted to celebrate and showcase these activities and look at how these positives may provide some legacy for the future.”

During the event, virtual activities are reflecting how the community has coped.

These began with a “warm up” from North Yorkshire Sport on keeping active through lockdown, followed by Ruth and Neil Hannah of Musical Memories CIC on how they’ve stayed connected to their audience during lockdown and provide their “tune a day” live.

North Yorkshire Moors National Park volunteer Jim Hall takes viewers on a virtual walk in the national park before lunch, something he did at residential homes before lockdown. Below, Jim explains the importance of the walks and how the idea came about.

Camphill Village Trust, which works with adults with learning and other disabilities, supports people through its 10 communities and services, including Botton Village, is showing how it has used video calling through lockdown and is treating participants to a live, fun, interactive session.

There is also a viewing of a first cut of an Esk Valley Together film, which is being made to document the community response to lockdown and the pandemic, and a discussion on the future post-pandemic and how the community will continue to thrive.

The Rev Sally Wilson will also talk about how the church will stay connected, before a musical finale with local musician Dave Crabtree and brother Mikey.

Jim’s virtual walks

Jim Hall joined the National Park as a volunteer ranger more than 22 years ago, before taking up a paid role as an assistant ranger.

About 12 years ago, he started running “health walks” themed around local history and nature.

The scheme became popular and was extended – teamwork in North Yorkshire with the care homes Jim visits made it happen.

Two years ago, the idea of virtual walks in old people’s homes was conceived by two of Jim’s colleagues. When they left the service, Jim picked up the baton and has done 30 talks in four care homes to date.

Jim decides on a walk – often inspired by his audience and their memories – and then does the route a couple of times with his wife, Denise, and dog Vista.

He then puts the route onto slides, featuring pictures of landmarks, maps and even sounds to help connect the residents to the location.

Jim said: “I decided that I wanted to tailor walks to spark memories for people, particularly dementia patients in the care homes I visit.

“My wife has worked as a care home worker for 20 years, so I knew what the audience might enjoy.

“I wanted to do the ‘walks’ that would bring back memories for people, even just little snapshots.  I decided to start somewhere significant and finish somewhere significant and by doing this, I got a few people remembering visiting the places.

“Next I started adding animals, like a cow. A while ago in one home I was presenting to an ex-farmer and I had a picture of a rare sheep in there, and he remembered the breed straight away.

“I might put in pictures of flowers or trees or birds, like a robin. This started working and so I had a structure for my walks.

“We start in a town, I show them pictures of the pubs, shops, hotels in that area, then onto the countryside with animals, trees and their sound, then through to another town.”

To cater for residents with a visual impairment, Jim started using sounds associated with the walks he was doing.

He said: “We did a walk from Ampleforth once which is famous for beagle hunts, so I used a picture of the beagles and a barking noise. That woke some of the residents up who were dozing.

“If there’s a picture of a church we use snippets of bells and hymns, and if there’s a train station it’s a train whistle.”

Jim tailors his walks for care home residents, residential home residents and those who live in sheltered accommodation. Each walk lasts half an hour and he is always keen to incorporate elements of their lives and memories into the walks.

The Virtual Rurality event is Jim’s first time Jim conducting a walk over video call. He hopes it might open up opportunities for other volunteers who want to do the same and get involved in the tours.

He said: “I’m looking for more people to get involved in the walks and do them virtually. I think they are hugely beneficial to people – the North Yorkshire Moors is an enormous area, too, so it would be wonderful to have people who could cover the areas I couldn’t.

“By doing it over video call, too, it might mean people who can’t go into care homes to do the walks there can do them in this format.”