‘Nothing we do would be possible without our volunteers’

We continue to celebrate acts of kindness across the county in our #SaltOfTheEarth campaign, which we are running with local media.

It’s more important than ever that people keep checking in on family, friends and neighbours who might need a helping hand with shopping, collecting medication or simply being there for a chat. We want to make sure everyone stays safe, and have advice on how to help safely.

With a continued increase in coronavirus cases across the county, and the risk of further restrictions, community support organisations (CSOs) and the voluntary sector partners they are working alongside are preparing for a potential increase in demand.

In the Esk Valley, Revival North Yorkshire has become a lifeline for around 130 residents, working in partnership with the Whitby CSO. Director Debbie Swales said: “Nothing we do would be possible without our volunteers. People making one phone call are just as important as those who go out and do the shopping.”

Val Rowe, a retired teacher from Sleights, is one of the volunteers making a difference in her community. She said: “Debbie is a really special person, she thinks outside the box. She doesn’t just think about prescriptions or how to get food, she thinks about everything in a broad sense because she cares about people. She won’t leave any stone unturned until she finds a way that person can be supported.”

When lockdown started, Val became a telephone befriender, and as restrictions have eased, she has also been able to have socially distanced visits with people in their gardens.

She said: “I’ve just started delivering fish and chips from Eskdale Fisheries in Sleights. I love doing it. I’ve learnt so much about people. I do quite a bit of volunteer work, but this is my favourite.”

Since March, Harrogate and District Community Action (HADCA) has been working alongside Ripon Community House as part of the community support organisation network helping people through the coronavirus pandemic. One of their volunteers, Stewart Webb, has made the transition from volunteer driver to Harrogate Easier Living Project (HELP) volunteer.

Anna Woollven, HELP Project Development Worker, said: “Stewart has been volunteering with our service for the last two years. Up until March, he was helping people get to medical appointments, make essential trips and other journeys as one of our volunteer drivers. We reshaped our services to also offer shopping, prescription collections, errand running and telephone befriending.

“Stewart was one of the first to sign up to help in this new capacity as a ‘Here to HELP’ volunteer. He has been an absolute stalwart throughout. In the early days when people were struggling to obtain food supplies, he helped set up and coordinate food boxes. As well as assistance on a practical level, Stewart has been keeping a friendly eye on some of his regular clients and flagged up any concerns to us. For example, where he feels clients might enjoy a befriending call. We are extremely grateful to Stewart, and all our other volunteers, for giving their time and support to help other people.”

Stewart said: “I lost my wife 11 years ago and I was getting bored. I went to Age Concern and asked what I could do and somebody said ‘we’d like you to come and be one of our car drivers’. That was about two and a half years ago. When Covid hit, we came to a full stop. There was no handbook. No rules. We had to start from scratch.

“It can be very rewarding and helps keep me occupied. People feel awkward sometimes and struggle to accept support. Having a sense of humour can help. We’re a bit like a tree really, if we can’t help, we have branches and we know someone who can.”

People who are self-isolating and 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 North Yorkshire County Council’s customer service centre on 01609 780780. The centre is open seven days a week 8am to 5.30pm. People can also find details of local voluntary and community groups offering support.

Find more information about the support available.