In early 2020, many things changed overnight as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – including Leyburn’s Arts and Community Centre.
When the enormity of the crisis became clear, the centre was forced to close down with the building repurposed as one of North Yorkshire’s network of 23 Community Support Organisation hubs, set up by the County Council to help residents look after each other.
Now, as society gradually returns to normal, Leyburn Arts and Community Centre is once again hosting the activities, group and clubs that were familiar there alongside the Leyburn and District Community Support Organisation hub.
Some people are hesitant about returning to social mixing, so the centre maintains simple, effective precautions, like the use of hand sanitiser and a one-way system.
Visitors who want to maintain higher levels of personal protection, like wearing face coverings, can be confident their decisions will be understood and accepted.
When the centre switched to become a Community Support Organisation hub, its eight trained volunteers acted to help the volunteers of 27 parish support groups across the district and proved highly effective in ensuring needs were met.
Through the worst of the pandemic, the parish support group volunteers helped with tasks such as shopping and transport for medical appointments, while a team with authority to collect and distribute medication ensured no one was left without the essential supplies they needed.
David Poole, who leads the hub, said: “As all this was going on it soon became obvious that people needed some form of companionship and at the hub we needed to know if domestic problems or health issues were coming up, so we could deal with them as quickly as possible.
“As a result, we decided to set up a community befriending programme with three volunteers to help combat the challenges of loneliness and isolation.
“More than 20 people in Leyburn alone were getting fortnightly calls and they were encouraged to chat. As people got to rely on the calls, conversations got longer and longer and we had to recruit additional volunteers.”
Today, although coronavirus is still with us, widespread vaccination means it is less of a threat to life, so organisations have begun to resume activities closer to normal as many residents want to get back to closer social contact.
David said: “Now, instead of having to chat on the phone people are coming back into the community and we are able to see them face to face at activities like the Lunch Club and Tuesday Club.”
Volunteer Anne Cranston leads the Community Befriending Programme and has been involved in Leyburn’s twice monthly Tuesday Club from the start four years ago. She realised early an isolation problem could emerge.
“I suddenly thought people will be feeling isolated, so I started ringing members once a fortnight but found it was a bit much for me on my own, so commandeered some volunteers and there were five of us,” she said. “It meant a lot to those involved. It has been wonderful.”
Anne wears her mask outdoors on trips to town and stressed that those attending group activities were free to take whatever personal precautions they thought necessary.
Tuesday Club member Joyce Burden said all those involved were disappointed when the centre had to close, but all found the regular telephone calls a great benefit: “Volunteer helpers used to phone us regularly. They called every one of the members to make sure we were coping and getting a phone call with a friendly voice was lovely,” she said.
“We have now had a few meetings again and are enjoying it. I think some people were a bit frightened of going out into company but the helpers do everything they can to make sure we are sitting distanced apart and use hand sanitiser going in and going out. It is done very professionally.
“I am sure our little club has done an enormous amount in getting people more confident about going out. Having something to look forwards to gives you a lift.”
Although people are now out and about again, the befriending programme has been maintained for those who are still vulnerable to health issues. For those who have returned to social mixing, measures are still in place to ensure their safety.
David said: “The message is still that we have a pandemic and we still need to watch ourselves. People should still follow the procedures they feel comfortable with.
“What has become obvious is that some people are still a little scared of going out and they didn’t realise the number of activities that are now again available.
“To overcome this, we started a community restart programme and got parish councils, churches and all the other organisations we could think of to advertise every event to show people there was a lot going on and they should not be scared to go out.”
Today, the Leyburn and District Community Support Organisation hub is still providing seven days a week cover, offering help and support for those who need it.