During the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been examples from every community across North Yorkshire of help and support provided when people need it – including for those with sight or hearing loss.

Since March, through lockdown and the challenges beyond, people in North Yorkshire have made an extraordinary effort to support their family, friends and neighbours who need it.

This includes members of RVS Sight Loss, Yorkshire Coast and Ryedale Disability Forum and Scarboccia All Inclusive Sports.  These organisations have come together to help vulnerable people with sight or hearing loss who might need extra help in Scarborough, Whitby, Filey, Pickering, Ryedale and Bridlington.

Antonio Mollica, a member of all the groups, said: “We’ve been in touch with our members and community since day one to make sure they didn’t feel isolated and were getting help with the things they needed, like shopping or health care.

“But it was difficult – at first in lockdown, when the supermarket shelves were already empty and tensions were high, some of us couldn’t lip read, especially as people began to wear masks.

“So we began to think about how we could help people and make a difference to members who were visually impaired or deaf.

“With the help of Stronger Communities, we started to apply for some grants.”

Antonio approached North Yorkshire County Council’s Stronger Communities programme to ask for funding to get IT kit to help members stay connected during lockdown.

Antonio obtained 50 Echo Shows and 50 Echo Dots, meaning members of the community who were shielding and isolated had access to audiobooks, songs, jokes and voice-controlled calling to friends and family members.

Antonio added the Echo Shows, which have screens, were particularly useful as they have video calling and options for subtitles. British Sign Language members can also sign each other using the Echo Show.

Antonio with guide dog

Antonio and other members of the community also looked at other measures to ease problems faced by the visually and hearing impaired community, including lanyards with cards that explained different disabilities, from sight and hearing loss to explaining why people might be exempt from wearing face coverings.

They also obtained badges, which explained the wearer had hearing loss, so shops were aware and could help if they needed to.

They distributed lip reading masks to members of the public in prominent places such as bus drivers, shops and libraries, so people who are deaf could see their lips and continue to read them – and also see them smile.

Antonio said: “From the start, we knew we had to help.

“All our groups have worked together to cover a large geographical area – we tried to reach out as far as we could and beyond.

“We wanted to help isolated or shielding members who had little contact with friends or family, so we made sure they had the facilities to listen to audiobooks and songs.

“Things like lanyards really helped to raise awareness in the community, so our members could go out and avoid stigma for not wearing a mask.

“Our main message is everyone is in this together and no-one is left behind.”

Marie-Ann Jackson, Head of the Stronger Communities programme, said: “The response from charities like these to ensure people have access to support and help during this pandemic has been incredible.

“Their inventiveness, creativity and resourcefulness to adapt their services to continue to meet people’s needs during these extraordinary times really is inspiring.

“We at North Yorkshire County Council want to thank people like Antonio, who look out for others within their community.

“The Stronger Communities team is on hand to support any groups in North Yorkshire that are interested in adapting their activities to enable them to continue to safely support people.”