Communities in North Yorkshire are to benefit from investment of up to £1.5 million to build on the close links which were forged during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A bold move to ensure that residents are given access to services and support from a new council covering the whole of North Yorkshire will see community and voluntary groups given the chance to apply for the additional funding.
The money will be available following the launch of the new North Yorkshire Council in just under four weeks on April 1 to allow the organisations which are established across England’s largest county to develop their roles and act as so-called community anchors.
A total of £1.5 million in funding, which will be spread over the next three years, will help build the capacity of the community and voluntary groups to act as key points of contact for the council, providing hubs for the public to access advice and support and to increase resilience in communities.
The project is building on the work that was undertaken by all of the current eight councils in North Yorkshire to develop close working relationships with a network of community and voluntary groups which were instrumental in providing support to residents during the pandemic.
Executive member for stronger communities, Cllr Greg White, said: “Volunteers and community groups have always played a hugely important role in North Yorkshire, but their work came even more to the fore during the Covid-19 crisis.
“These organisations became a trusted voice for communities and helped us to publicise key public health messages and provided support at a grassroots level by co-ordinating the delivery of food and other essential items while checking on the most vulnerable members of society.
“The new North Yorkshire Council will cover the biggest geographical area of any local authority in the country, but we have made a pledge to make sure that it will be the most local council nationally as well.
“The community and voluntary organisations we work closely with will be an important element in ensuring that we can deliver on that promise, acting as the ears and eyes of the new council to make sure that we can target services and funding at those communities and areas that need them the most.”
While the concept of community anchors has been employed elsewhere in the country, the scheme in North Yorkshire is thought to be among the biggest of its kind nationally.
The vast swathes of rural North Yorkshire which are home to some of the most isolated communities in the country present significant challenges in ensuring that the 615,000 residents in the county are given the support and services that they need.
Groups that are already established in North Yorkshire can apply for £15,000-a-year in funding to become a community anchor ahead of a deadline on 20 March.
The funding is being made available to broadly increase the capacity of the groups, rather than being targeted at a specific project, and to strengthen the resilience of communities to build on the solid foundations that developed during the pandemic.
The investment would be available to finance a range of activities such as building partnerships with organisations including the council and health services and increasing their capacity to deliver physical and mental well-being programmes for communities.
The money could also be employed to help develop projects such as community transport services, running social enterprises and delivering skills and education.
The funding would also be potentially used to help communities to respond to emergencies, and improve people’s financial resilience, especially in relation to food and fuel.
Groups which could apply for the funding and played a key role throughout the Covid-19 pandemic include Nidderdale Plus, the Upper Dales Community Partnership and the Grassington Hub as well as the Community Care Associations in Stokesley, Thirsk and Easingwold.
Ripon Community House, which is based in part of the city’s old workhouse and celebrates its 10th anniversary this month (March), was another of the community support organisations established in the pandemic, and staff are due to apply for funding to become one of the new community anchors.
The venue, which provides meeting rooms for the community as well as a food bank and activities such as chair-based exercise classes, currently houses a base for Harrogate Borough Council to offer services such as waste and housing, and this will continue with the launch of North Yorkshire Council.
Ripon Community House’s chief officer, Suzanne Bowyer, said: “The legacy of Covid-19 has meant that we have become a real trusted voice in the community, and people come to us for advice – if they don’t know which organisation to go to, then we can invariably help.
“To have the chance to build on this work by becoming a community anchor is so important, and the launch of the new council in North Yorkshire will undoubtedly help ensure the public can access services even easier by knowing there is one single organisation to deal with.”
Funding from the Government has already been used for North Yorkshire’s community and voluntary sector as part of financial support provided nationally to help the country recover from the pandemic.
However, the new funding is being provided via Stronger Communities Achieve Together programme and is aimed at supporting about 30 different organisations over a three-year period.
To qualify for the funding, organisations need to be established in communities with an existing base where they are delivering services while also possessing a proven track record that they are financially sustainable.
Ourselves and the seven district and borough authorities will merge from 1 April to pave the way for a devolution deal, which is set to transfer decision-making powers and millions of pounds of funding from Westminster to local political leaders.
A pledge has been made to ensure that the new North Yorkshire Council will be built with local communities at its heart. The new council will retain a main office in each of the former district areas, supported by additional customer access points in public locations.
Read more information on how to apply for the community anchors project.