Army of volunteers boosted as interest soars with campaign to highlight community champions

Hundreds of people have come forward to find out more information about volunteering following a campaign to highlight the vital work to deliver services to communities across North Yorkshire.

The work of community champions has made a huge contribution across England’s largest county, keeping North Yorkshire cleaner, greener and more connected in ways that would otherwise not have been possible.

And a concerted campaign spearheaded by us during the past 12 months has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people coming forward to find out more about volunteering.

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Yorkshire Seals volunteer Audrey McGhie with cofounder Matt Barnes

The Team North Yorkshire campaign has been promoted to hundreds of thousands of people through coverage in the media as well as through the council’s social media channels.

Council leader, Cllr Carl Les, said: “We are indebted to the work of volunteers who make a real difference to communities across the county.

“Their efforts provide wide and varied benefits for support and services that would otherwise not be able to be delivered as effectively as they are.

“The Team North Yorkshire campaign has been vital to shine a light on all the good work that is being done, and it is wonderful to see so many people have come forward to find out more about volunteering.”

Throughout the campaign, more than 300 people have been inspired to pursue volunteering opportunities with both the council and Community First Yorkshire by clicking through from the links on the Team North Yorkshire webpage.

In the first month after launching the campaign in April last year, there was a 48 per cent increase in people visiting the council’s volunteering webpage compared with the year before.

Chief executive, Richard Flinton, said: “There is a thriving and committed network of volunteers in North Yorkshire who make a real difference to thousands of people.

“Many volunteers are motivated by simply wanting to help others, so the Team North Yorkshire campaign has been an ideal way to highlight all that they do. They play such a pivotal role in not only helping the council but a wealth of other organisations too.”

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Open Country volunteer Barbara Neill with members of the Nature Force Group

Almost 50 volunteers have been featured in the campaign throughout the past 12 months showcasing a wide range of themes including tackling loneliness and digital exclusion, promoting grassroots sport, and enhancing conservation, tourism and civic pride.

Community First Yorkshire is a charity that supports other voluntary, community and social enterprises organisations in the region.

Its chief executive, Jane Colthup, said: “Volunteers are the beating heart of many of our North Yorkshire communities, providing vital support in an often unseen capacity.

“Having North Yorkshire Council showcase the essential contribution that volunteers make to our county is a great way to recognise their support and we hope it encourages more people to consider giving the gift of their time.

“We know that being a volunteer means that people aren’t just helping others – it’s also good for boosting feelings of social connectedness and tackling loneliness.

“With the added benefit that the council’s volunteering campaign has also encouraged more people to ask for help, you get a real picture of the positive impact that being a volunteer can have.”

Many of the groups featured have seen a rise in interest and added new recruits to their ranks.

The co-founder of the Yorkshire Seal Group, Matt Barnes, and members of the 30-strong volunteer team visit seal sites on the coast of North and East Yorkshire to talk to the public.

They advocate responsible and respectful wildlife watching by provide telescopes and binoculars, so people can observe seals unobtrusively.

Matt said: “We inducted seven new seal stewards after the Team North Yorkshire coverage in October last year which was fantastic, and the increase in awareness of our work is greatly appreciated.”

Jennifer Aspden volunteers as a coach with Bedale Junior Football Club which has been able to expand its operations due to the interest generated through the Team North Yorkshire campaign.

She said: “We’ve had half a dozen new coaches come to us since the article was published and interest from parents wanting to help out more to support the club. It really boosted my confidence.

“The fact that people have come to me and asked about coaching as a direct result of the publicity has been great. The extra capacity means we’ve been able to venture into a wider field and we are launching Bedale Inclusive Junior Football to give all children the opportunity to play. It’s very exciting and huge for the area.”

David Shaftoe is the chief officer at Open Country, a Harrogate-based charity which helps people with disabilities access and enjoy the countryside.

He said: “We have had welcome offers of help from new volunteers. Our groups are flourishing, and we were very grateful for the exposure. It was great coverage for an organisation the size of ours.”

North Yorkshire has a strong network of community and voluntary organisations involving thousands of volunteers, with more than 4,000 people directly supporting council services which are delivered to the 615,000 residents in the county.

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Bedale Junior Football Club coach Jennifer Aspden

Our libraries team also featured in the campaign to make more people aware of the home library service.

The publicity resulted in 68 new customers who will now be able to get books, audiobooks and other items delivered to their door free of charge as well as 18 volunteers signing up to help deliver the service.

Following a focus on digital skills in the campaign, libraries also saw a 39 per cent year-on-year increase in customers seeking support through IT buddies during October. Volunteers helped 1,675 customers take the first step in boosting their digital skills, 467 more than the 1,208 supported the previous year.

 

The national Volunteers Week will be staged next month from Monday, 3 June, to Sunday, 9 June. Organisers are celebrating 40 years of the event. See more information about Volunteers Week.

See more information about volunteering in North Yorkshire.

A passion for education is helping to shape children’s futures

Andrew Bradley became a school governor in 2012 after being approached by a parent governor in the playground when his son attended Long Preston Primary School.

Since then, he has overseen the creation of the Ribblesdale Federation, which he now chairs, made up of Long Preston, Giggleswick and Hellifield primary schools.

Andrew said: “With my son attending the school, I had an interest in its success and improving the education system. As governors we are dedicated to helping pupils have the best start in life.

“I find it incredibly interesting to be involved in the workings of the schools and have a say in everything from the price of school dinners to the appointment of those employed there.

“It is a rewarding role, particularly when we have secured impressive Ofsted ratings. They bring out the best, showing off our hard work and demonstrating how we overcome anything to ensure the best education is delivered.”

During his time as a governor, Andrew became involved in the federation, which ensured they remained viable with about 190 pupils now enrolled over the three sites.

A dairy farmer turned artisan butcher, Andrew can choose his hours to fit around his role as the federation’s chair.

He said: “Plans to federate the schools became a key project and I was committed to seeing it through. It demonstrates great collaboration as we have a united curriculum, can share resources and teachers can work across sites when needed.”

Governing bodies are an integral part of school leadership, setting the ethos, driving continuous improvement, supporting, challenging and holding the headteacher and the leadership team to account.

Schools need to work in partnership and collaboration with governors and volunteers are needed from a range of backgrounds, from age and ethnicity to gender and disability.

If you would like to be a school governor and help to make a positive contribution to children's education, complete the LA governor application online or email Governor.Support@northyorks.gov.uk

Supporting coastal communities deal with the pressures of mental health

When Steve Lange moved to North Yorkshire from Essex, he wanted to find somewhere that he could call his ‘safe space’.

In Scarborough Survivors, he found just that.

Having suffered with mental health problems, the former bus driver appreciated the help he received from the mental health and wellbeing hub. So much so, that he went on to become a volunteer and then a trustee.

Set up in 1994 by a small number of individuals who had experienced issues with their mental health, Scarborough Survivors encourages people to pop in and talk over their problems.

Based at Alma Square, it not only offers warming drinks and conversation, but also organises walks, swimming and arts and crafts events, among other initiatives.

The service accepts people from across the North Yorkshire coast and also runs a weekly group in nearby Whitby, known as the Whitby Allsorts.

Steve, 48, said: “I came up here for a week’s holiday in August 2022 and that was it. I thought ‘I am not going back to Essex’. I was introduced to the group a few months later and it soon became my safe space.

“I have made real friends through the service - we can just talk and because we have gone through the same kind of problems there is a real understanding between us. Nobody judges you.

“I like being around people and not having to explain myself. It takes the pressure off.”

Steve said volunteering was a natural next step for him.

“Because I had been involved in volunteer work previously, I told the staff and was invited to become a volunteer myself. I then went on to become a trustee,” he said.

“There are two parts to my volunteering. I greet people when they first arrive, offer them a drink and then have a chat and make sure they are okay.

“Then when it comes to activities, I take the lead on the feelgood walks. We go down to The Teapot on the seafront or down to the Spa, have a chat and a giggle and a drink.

“I would say Survivors is a real welcoming place. If you are struggling personally or you are caring for someone who is suffering with mental health issues, then Survivors is a really great place to go to.”

For more information, visit the Scarborough Survivors website.

Driving forward to help ensure local communities stay on the move

Alistair Waind helps to ferry local residents who cannot drive or do not have access to the use of public transport services. 

Alistair, who lives in Knaresborough, began volunteering with Chain Lane Community Hub in December last year after a call for new drivers to help transport members of the community - mainly to and from medical appointments.

Boasting a team of 12 dedicated volunteer drivers, Alistair said the service has proved a lifeline for getting people from A to B without having to break the bank. 

He said: “On average we do one journey each week usually around the Knaresborough and Harrogate areas. Occasionally, we drive people from Knaresborough to hospitals in Leeds. Everyone we help are very appreciate of the service we provide. All our journeys tend to be affordable. 

“We fill in a vital role for people who are unable to qualify for an ambulance collection, but still require our help.”

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Alistair Waind Knaresborough community transport volunteer

 He added: “One of the key challenges across North Yorkshire is rurality, specifically for those more vulnerable in our towns. We are supported by North Yorkshire Council to provide this community transport service, which is an affordable alternative and at its heart aims to connect people to their communities.”

Alistair went onto pay tribute to the hard work of Chain Lane volunteers. 

He said: “The staff are doing a great job. We all take pleasure helping those who are in need of help.”

Find out more about becoming a volunteer driver.

Thirsk tourist information volunteers

Attracting thousands of visitors a year, the small market town of Thirsk has an army of volunteers at its helm.

A team of 30 of them are at the busy tourist information building in the Market Place where they not only look after the masses of visitors from around the world that flock to the town because of its links to the fictional vet James Herriot, but also cater for the needs of locals wanting to check the bus timetables or when the next bin collections will be made. 

Ted Naisbitt has been volunteering there for nearly 20 years after moving to North Yorkshire with his wife, Jen. The 77-year-old retired public sector accountant had joined a walking group to get to know people and the area and was with them in the Tourist Information Centre when someone asked for directions.

“This visitor wanted to know how to get to Buttertubs Pass and the volunteer on duty didn’t know,” said Ted.  “I did, so told them the way - and went away thinking ‘I could do that’!  Twenty years later I am still here, still acting as a sat nav for people in need of directions to our many attractions!”

The tourist centre has had several bases in the town since it was formed in the late 1990s – first in Thirsk Museum in Kirkgate, then across the road at The World of James Herriot before it moved into the Market Place into a former saddlery shop.  It was based there for eight years, but when volunteers heard of plans to close it they mounted a campaign to keep it in the town centre.

It was at that point that the first two of the current three directors were brought on board and they secured a new home - a former toilet block which was being converted into a commercial unit by Hambleton District Council. They persuaded the council to lease it to them on a minimal rent – and later the building was gifted to the not-for-profit tourism body.

Retired physiotherapy lecturer, Jo Caramello, was one of those directors alongside retired businessman, Peter Rush, and says it is only an old loo to the locals that remember, to everyone else it’s a ‘dinky’ little place packed full of knowledge.

“It’s the perfect location – very central and no-one can miss it,” she said. “But without our amazing volunteers mounting a campaign to keep us in the Market Place we wouldn’t be here – and we wouldn’t be providing an invaluable service for visitors and locals alike.   

“They are great bunch of people all giving their time for free, and they all have Thirsk in their hearts. They see the centre as their own – and unusually we have a waiting list for people wanting to volunteer with us. We are indebted to them.”

Ted says there is never a day goes by that he does not get job satisfaction. 

“People always go away from here satisfied,” he added. “If we cannot get them the answer, we will point them in the right direction. What job can you get that gives you 99 per cent job satisfaction and you go home happy. 

“We all come to work here because we want to not because we have to!    And we must be doing it right as in 2015 we were voted the best tourist information service in Yorkshire – we were all very proud.”

The centre is open every month except January, six days a week through the winter months and seven days during the summer. See full details about Thirsk tourist information centre.