A long-term effect of the coronavirus pandemic in Settle is likely to be a stronger community, with voluntary and charitable organisations working more closely together for the public good.

The strength of the communities of Settle and surrounding small towns and villages was evident as early as the first lockdown, when Age UK North Craven took on the role as one of 23 Community Support Organisations (CSOs) set up by the County Council to orchestrate the response to the emergency.

By that time, every community in the area already had its own group of volunteers, established from scratch or repurposed from existing organisations, to look after their families, friends and neighbours.

That left the new CSO to take on an overarching support role to ensure the localised groups had the help they needed to work effectively.

There was no shortage of volunteers, with 200 people making themselves available in Settle alone, focusing initially on essentials such as food deliveries and prescription collections.

The CSO acted as a pivot, ensuring smaller groups had the information they needed to work as effectively as possible in an environment where circumstances were changing quickly.

That proved effective and as the pandemic continued, the focus changed to take account of both mental and physical health among those affected by lockdowns.

While all local groups set up telephone befriending schemes to help overcome loneliness and isolation, the CSO recognised physical health was also becoming an issue, encouraging those involved to suggest meeting for walks, or walking to the shops as an alternative, to get people out of their homes.

Jonathan Kerr, of Age UK North Craven, said: “There is a natural culture to be self-sufficient and there were people not asking for help until they were really desperate.

“We have relied on the links and contacts we have and have encouraged the community to do so, with campaigns to check on their neighbours.”

That was particularly important as so many people volunteered to help in the area that not all could be accommodated, with the CSO suggesting instead they check on the welfare of those living nearby.

“We have tried to encourage neighbourliness,” said Jonathan.

The smaller organisations have been able to disband or return to their original functions as Covid-19 restrictions have eased, with Age UK North Craven also restarting its groups and meetings, which were familiar before the pandemic.

But some things have changed, with a monthly ‘Settle Cobra’ meeting now taking place among organisations in the town to monitor emerging needs and how they can be met.

One important development has been the establishment of a new venue, called Place, which provides a space for outside bodies – offering health and social activities – to operate in Settle.

Previously, those wanting to use their services would have had to travel to find them.

“This gives people the opportunity to access support close to where they live,” said Jonathan.

A special event to recognise the work of volunteers in Settle through the pandemic was held on September 22 at Victoria Hall, organised in conjunction with our Stronger Communities team.