Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, an incredible volunteer effort has lifted and carried communities across the county to ensure no-one slips through the cracks.

From community support organisations co-ordinating volunteer efforts to friends checking on friends and neighbours on neighbours, the caring nature of North Yorkshire as a county has been present throughout.

This includes organisations like Husthwaite Village Hall Committee, which sprang into action at the start of the pandemic to ensure those who may need help had it.

Thanks to a Defra grant, the County Council has been able to allocate funding to many vital organisations so they can continue to help the most vulnerable in the community.

The funding comes after the Government, through Defra’s Local Authorities Emergency Assistance Grant for Food and Essential Supplies, provided £63m to local authorities to help those who are struggling to afford food and essentials during the crisis.

Twenty-six organisations in North Yorkshire have been granted up to £10,000 to enable them to keep supplying food to people in their locality. This includes food banks and community kitchens and fridges – with many organisations helping to combat food waste along with providing hot meals and store cupboard staples.

We spoke to some of the community organisations about how the grant has helped them.

Husthwaite Village Hall Committee

Husthwaite Parish Council and Village Hall Committee tailored their efforts to ensure no-one fell through the cracks.

From delivering 200 cakes across the village to simply being around for a chat, volunteers pulled together when the pandemic began and were co-ordinated by the Village Hall Committee and the Parish Council to give a cohesive response.

The Defra funding will enable volunteers to continue helping those who need it.

Lynn Colton, Co-chair of Husthwaite Village Hall Committee, said: “We do have an ageing population here and those people in the past are the ones that were the most active and would have been helping.

cakes at  Husthwaite Village Hall

“We have an Orchard Village club, a two-course meal once per month where elderly people can get together and catch up. We do Prime Time, which was originally organised through North Yorkshire County Council. It’s games and activity-based and anyone who fancies it can go along.

“We also did the Apple Tree café once per month where again, anyone can go along and catch up.”

When the pandemic started, the Parish Council began compiling lists of people who may need extra help, aided by the village hall and church.

Lynn said: “It might just have been seeing them out and about walking and checking they were okay and had support, but we also arranged a food delivery service where one of us would go and pick up shopping.

“We did the same for prescriptions, too, which helped the doctors’ surgeries in the area as it meant not as many people going through.

“We continued the Orchard Village club with a two-course meal delivered once a month, and a soup run once a week, delivering soup to 25 people in the village.

“It’s not just about getting a hot meal, but we would stay and speak to whoever we were delivering to (in a socially distanced and safe way) for as long as they needed us to, to make sure they were getting to see a friendly face, too.

“The Defra funding has ensured we can commit to having these measures in place until at least next March, so people don’t have to worry about it and we can reassure them.”

Age UK North Craven

Age UK North Craven is one of the community support organisations across North Yorkshire helping to co-ordinate voluntary efforts.

Recently, it has begun to pick back up some of the voluntary work within the community as other volunteers begin to wind down their efforts.

Manager Jonathan Kerr said: “Our focus in all of this is predominantly older people. We are a local independent charity, Age UK North Craven, which has links but is separate to Age UK.”

When Covid-19 took hold, many voluntary groups in the area appeared. As a CSO, Age UK North Craven supported these groups in applying for funding and signposted people who needed support to them.

Jonathan said: “As lockdown went on, our support changed to looking at how to support people’s mental health within the community. We distributed craft and hobby packs to keep people’s minds active as boredom took hold.

“Many older people were reticent about going back out in the community, so we provided supported walks to the shops to make them feel more confident being out and about.

“A lot of our services went from being face-to-face to online and over the phone at the start and that has continued.”

Jonathan said that many of the smaller voluntary groups have reduced or stopped their services as demand slowly goes down.

He said: “We’ve started picking up a lot of the core functions again like food delivery and prescription delivery services. We don’t want people to have relied on this support and then suddenly be without it.”

“The pandemic has identified hidden needs in the community surrounding food poverty.

Jonathan said: “We have a really successful food bank which has identified a lot of hidden need and people who flew under the radar slightly. There are particular villages who needed food banks and two more have been set up to meet this demand.”

Scarborough and Ryedale Carer Resource

Scarborough and Ryedale Carers Resource has helped to co-ordinate the volunteer efforts and the Defra grant came at the right time to take their work forward.

Development Manager Claire Robinson said: “Almost as soon as lockdown hit in March we were operational with the CSO helpline, taking 30-plus calls a day at the height of the pandemic. Some of the calls were quite challenging and worrying – there were lots of conversations about food insecurities, especially people worrying about how they would get food if they couldn’t go out.

“We mobilised a team of 140 volunteers, all trained and ready to support residents who called in.

Scarborough and Ryedale Carer Resource standing outside a van with food

“The focus on food insecurity led to conversations with a wide range of colleagues and resulted in many new partnerships including work on a Community Kitchen through Community Smart, and closer working relationships with the Ryedale Foodbank, Community Fridges, Morrisons PLC and Fareshare Leeds.”

Solving the immediate food need was one action, but the organisation also looke at underlying issues experienced due to the impact of Covid-19.

For example, loneliness due to lockdown, debt management (potentially for the first time for many), accessing support services and confusion over the pandemic rules and restrictions.

Claire added: “We’ve been engaging with a lot of partners to help address these issues and thank you to everyone who has already helped and who continue to help. The Defra grants came at just the right time to help us all develop more secure solutions to the food insecurity challenge. 

“We look forward to working with a number of partners and organisations over the coming weeks to build practical and sustainable solutions; in doing so we have galvanised everyone working together, which can only be a good thing for all our local communities.”

Resurrected Bites

Resurrected Bites is a food service that aims to combat food poverty, loneliness and food waste in one.

Originally, Resurrected Bites began as cafés using food that would have been thrown away and provided meals on a pay-as-you-feel basis.

The focus on food waste came about because the café’s founder, Michelle Hayes, headed up the Zero Carbon Harrogate Food group and knew it is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which exacerbate global warming.

When Covid-19 hit, Michelle and her team closed the cafés, but were aware that people would need them more than ever.

Resurrected Bites volunteers

Michelle said: “I knew there would be a huge amount of food waste during lockdown as businesses had to close very quickly and I also knew there would be a huge number of people struggling to access food.

“We deliver fresh and frozen food as well as store cupboard items, toiletries, household items and cooked meals – we try to be as close to a food shop as possible.

“People can go online and choose what they want to order. We sometimes get fresh flowers too, which is a lovely touch.”

Michelle added: “The service is free, so the grant we have will go towards wages.

“It’s been an awful lot of hard work but we have a fantastic team of volunteers – some of our new volunteers are service users who now want to help out.”

Gary Fielding, the County Council’s Corporate Director for Strategic Resources, said: “It’s wonderful that organisations within the community can utilise the Defra grants to continue to help those most in need.

“The army of volunteers and members of the public willing to support is incredible, as always, and it’s just another measure to ensure that no-one in the county slips through the cracks.”

People who need support with shopping, prescriptions and other essentials but don’t have anyone to call on, or anyone concerned about the welfare of someone else, can contact our customer service centre on 01609 780780, seven days a week, 8am to 5.30pm.

Find details of local voluntary and community groups offering support.