When a community hub holds the unusual distinction of housing a police ‘front desk’ it is an indicator of the stature it has in village society.
The Nidderdale Plus Community Hub in Pateley Bridge had that feature for years before the coronavirus pandemic struck, one of many services which put it at the heart of the community after the organisation was set up in 2015.
But the health emergency which emerged early last year saw the body evolve to take on the demanding remit of working to ensure those living in the district – often quite isolated and relatively older people – were kept safe and had the vital services they needed.
Nidderdale Plus became one of a network of Community Support Organisations, set up and funded by the County Council to help ensure all communities across North Yorkshire were not exposed to avoidable hardship.
When the pandemic struck, the organisation was already embedded at the heart of the community, with the hub housing a community library, tourist information centre and a keen band of volunteers for tasks like driving to support a community transport scheme.
With fewer than two full-time staff, the performance of the organisation relied heavily on a team of around 40 volunteers, but some of those stood aside on health grounds as Covid-19 spread, though the organisation has seen a surge of new volunteers, including many with no previous experience, and the full-time staffing level has been swelled to three.
During the pandemic, Nidderdale Plus has taken on new and important roles, including transporting vital deliveries to 80 care homes in the area and dropping off medical supplies at all Harrogate district GP practices.
Drivers have delivered hot food under a new meals on wheels service, set up in conjunction with a local catering firm, as well as delivering books and jigsaw puzzles, in addition to up to 50 prescription deliveries a week for medical patients.
Helen Flynn, of Nidderdale Plus, said the response to becoming a community support organisation had involved initial work to map out the district and create a network of 13 areas, with volunteers in each to ensure all residents’ needs were met during lockdowns, in particular.
For security, volunteers who already had passed vetting procedures were welcomed, with a self-certification system set up for others, along with safeguarding policies.
“We have adapted and now we are providing volunteers to the vaccination centres at Harrogate, Ripon and Pateley Bridge; we are there to help in whatever way we can, we innovate and adapt to address need,” she said.
One urgent job had been to deliver 180 computer tablets to care homes, to allow doctors to conduct remote consultations with residents, a task which needed careful planning because of the rural geography of the area.
The community transport scheme for the area has a ‘community car’, which was financed by the County Council and has been put to work on the delivery runs.
The success of the organisation during the pandemic has hinged on the willingness of those within communities to help each other.
“People are very generous with their time and want to help,” said Helen.
“During the first lockdown we had a lot of people who had not volunteered before, because they were not able to work and now I would say there is a higher level of volunteering across the community because people got into the habit of it during Covid.
“Volunteers get so much out of it, they really get a buzz from it,” she said.