In January 2020, when we launched our Salt of the Earth campaign to celebrate the power of kindness, we could not have imagined the impact of the pandemic or how much communities would need to pull together.
One positive to come from this crisis is that incredible Team North Yorkshire response. People have reached out to support their neighbours and a network of volunteers has helped to create a safety net of support for anyone without family or friends to lean on.
The leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Cllr Carl Les, said: “Despite facing their own hardships and heartache, people up and down the county have shown how compassionate and resilient they are. Since January last year we’ve shared almost 80 stories of people making a difference in their communities, inspiring others to get involved and showing people that it’s okay to ask for help. As we look ahead with hope and optimism, we will continue to celebrate that kindness through our Team North Yorkshire campaign.”
Coronavirus restrictions may have left some people with time on their hands, but in Husthwaite one teenager has been busier than ever – helping to keep older and vulnerable people in the village well fed. Rory Watt is a cooking enthusiast who likes to spend time in the kitchen and started making soup for elderly neighbours as part of his work towards a Duke of Edinburgh award.
Initially, Rory’s work was financed by the family but his ingredients are now paid for through a scheme administered by the council’s stronger communities team.
Rory said: “Living rurally, it is harder to get volunteering opportunities. I was thinking outside the box and wanted to do something for the village. There are some people in the village I had never met. Sometimes I get compliments and that is nice to hear.”
Rory’s contribution to village life is part of an initiative involving many residents, who joined the Husthwaite Community Action Group after it was set up by the parish council, with the village hall committee helping to assess needs in the village.
Wide-ranging work has been done over the last year to help isolated and vulnerable residents, with shopping runs, prescription collections, dog walking, a social club, which has continued to distribute meals during lockdown, and even art projects to occupy residents. That work has been supported by the County Council, which has been able to provide a grant to help to finance the work.
Lynn Colton, who serves on the village hall committee and has been instrumental in setting up the action group, said that the funding had removed a financial burden and meant those receiving help could be assured the costs had been covered.
The grant has also allowed the group to buy the equipment it needs, like containers for Rory’s soup and other meals provided by volunteers, which will all remain available when the lockdown is over, meaning the social and support groups which remain in the village will have more flexibility in what they can do to support people.
The action group’s aim has been to engage as many people as possible, make sure everyone has access to telephone numbers they can call for assistance and, where possible, to have contact points with villagers they already know.
To do so and help foster a good relationship, volunteers baked cupcakes, which they distributed among residents thought most likely to need assistance, using the opportunity of delivering the treats to strike up a conversation on the doorstep.
That planned and structured approach has meant volunteers have been able to offer the maximum support possible to neighbours in the village, while ensuring no-one was accidentally overlooked.
Richard Flinton, North Yorkshire County Council Chief Executive, said: “In North Yorkshire, we have strong communities and people who care about each other within them, for which we are hugely grateful. When I reflect on the last year, it’s difficult to imagine what the experience of shielding or lockdown would have been like without the volunteers who have given over 87,000 hours of their time to make sure people had food, medication and someone to talk to during these challenging times. My heartfelt thanks goes to each and every one of them.”
If you are supporting someone in your community during the pandemic, thank you. You are making a big difference in these challenging times. Find advice about how to help safely and links to volunteering opportunities.