North Yorkshire residents have shown their mettle over the last year by stepping up to help others to an unprecedented extent as the health crisis amplified existing problems with loneliness and isolation.
The country will again mark Loneliness Awareness Week from June 14 to18, a national campaign hosted by the Marmalade Trust to get people talking about loneliness.
For people of all ages, just having someone to talk to during long and lonely months of lockdown and shielding made all the difference.
Working alongside partners with the voluntary sector, the Team North Yorkshire effort coordinated through the community support organisation network has seen countless prescriptions collected, many cupboards stocked with food, telephone calls made to check in on people, library books supplied and meals delivered to provide nourishment for both body and soul.
Some volunteers found themselves forced to step aside over health concerns as the virus spread but many others stood in to offer their services.
Whatever duties they have performed, volunteers have been highly aware of the importance of their contact with residents even when it has been at a distance.
A five minute chat while accepting a delivery of library books has been a great tonic for some, while others have welcomed the opportunity to get help with other simple tasks, like making sure mail has been posted while they have been shielding or limiting their contact.
North Yorkshire’s head of Stronger Communities, Marie-Ann Jackson, said: “We’ve been living in difficult, demanding and sometimes tragic circumstances for more than a year now and loneliness has affected people of all ages and walks of life.
“Thankfully, the concepts of helping others, showing kindness and reaching out to neighbours were already ingrained in North Yorkshire’s communities.
“People already involved in volunteering have been willing to swap roles and adapt to make sure the right services have been available at the right time, in the right place for those needing assistance.
“So many North Yorkshire residents have gone above and beyond to support people through a really challenging period.
“After months and months of restrictions and limits on social contact people are more aware than ever what the impact of loneliness can be on our physical and mental wellbeing.
“Connecting with others is a great way to reduce loneliness and I would encourage everyone to reach out to a neighbour and get to know the people around you. The best way to reduce the stigma around loneliness is to talk about it.”
As well as the voluntary and community response to coronavirus, North Yorkshire’s Living Well service also offers help to tackle loneliness, using co-ordinators to encourage people to participate in activities around them and become independent.
The objective is to work with those involved, rather than simply providing services for them with the intention of helping to guide sustainable changes which will improve lives in the long term.
The importance of that work is difficult to over-estimate, in a society where it has been estimated one in every two over 75s living alone may go a month without human contact.
In recent years the full impact of loneliness has been increasingly recognised and is known to be a contributing factor in physical illnesses such as strokes and heart disease as well as poor mental health.
The Marmalade Trust are encouraging people to see loneliness as an experience, not as a condition that defines us. Find more information about Loneliness Awareness Week and the Marmalade Trust at www.marmaladetrust.org/law
For information about community groups and voluntary organisations in your local area to increase your social connections go to www.northyorkshireconnect.org.uk
Three organisations have taken on the task of preventing loneliness on the North Yorkshire coast and have provided support to scores of people who would otherwise have found themselves isolated.
To ensure those needing help have had access to it, Age UK YMCA Scarborough and Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale Mind have taken charge of Scarbrough, while Coast and Vale Community Action have covered Whitby and Revival North Yorkshire have looked after the Esk Valley, Staithes and Sleights.
Arrangements for the Esk Valley and coast villages were revamped extensively in March 2020, switching from helping mainly elderly people to providing assistance to the whole community.
In less than a year, they provided more than 1,100 befriending/welfare calls and delivered more than 800 meals to people under a scheme called ‘lunch on legs.
In addition, they delivered almost 200 Christmas Day meals and made around 700 visits to people’s doorsteps.
Their team of volunteers includes Jill Broadley, who through the pandemic has worked as a telephone befriender, responsible for ringing seven different people twice a week to check on their welfare.
Jill said she was keen to be involved when the prospect of a telephone service was raised.
“I said I’d do absolutely anything I could to help with that. I knew them all before lockdown, but the longer it goes on, the more you get to know them,” she said. “We talk about the weather and sometimes they have little tit-bits to tell me.”
Enid Saddler, 84, is among those who got calls from Jill and she said she had been “overwhelmed” by the support given.
A group of students at Wensleydale School and Sixth Form taken on the big responsibility of becoming ‘peer mentors’ to help protect their young classmates from the pressures of modern life.
There are around a dozen volunteers who have been trained to act in the role, assisting those who may be affected by mental health issues.
The scheme was launched in September 2019 and training in early 2020 was affected by the coronavirus pandemic but determination meant the scheme was still able to be launched, using online rather than face to face communication initially.
Now it is returning to the intended format, using an informal approach.
It has been supported with funding from North Yorkshire’s Stronger Communities and Public Health teams.
Head teacher Julia Polley said: “The whole point was to get young people talking to others because talking is really good therapy and we wanted to have some who were trained to talk to others, so people would know who they are.
“We train them really robustly, so they understand about confidentiality - it is quite a big thing for young people to take that sort of thing on board.
“Covid-19 made us realise there was an additional need to talk and look after each other, so we were making regular phone calls and using Snapchat so everyone had the opportunity to make contact,” she said.
The school uses outside bodies to provide support on counselling and those involved get their own back-up - in recognition that their role can be tough.
“Well being and mental health is top of our list, apart from academic work, but they almost go hand in glove,” she said.
“People will take worries and concerns very genuinely and I think parents really appreciate the fact that we do listen and will make sure people get to the right place.
“It is not scheduled or regimented, it is a natural, holistic, thing,” she said.