Fund will support community work to tackle loneliness

Community and voluntary groups in North Yorkshire are being given hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding through a county-wide strategy to help to tackle social isolation.

We are co-ordinating the project, which is providing funding to charities and community groups to target those most in need, especially across the vast rural areas of England’s largest county.

Grants under the Stay Healthy, Independent and Connected project have been awarded to 25 organisations to help to point residents experiencing loneliness to specialist support and engage more in their communities.

Our executive member for adult social care, Cllr Michael Harrison, said: “So many communities live in deeply rural areas and it is often difficult to reach those most in need.

“But this new co-ordinated approach, which we are leading, will provide life-changing support and help to ensure that we tackle loneliness as effectively as possible.”

The new prevention grants were launched at the same time as the new council at the start of April and a total of £450,000 is being provided through our health and adult services.

The funding is being used to promote activities and events through community organisations, such as luncheon clubs, coffee mornings and gardening clubs to engage with people experiencing loneliness across North Yorkshire.

Work is also under way to support community transport schemes to ensure that those experiencing loneliness are given the ability to travel to events.

The project is building on the close links that were forged with community support organisations, which proved invaluable during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as existing initiatives, such as our Living Well service.

The free initiative aims to improve the health, well-being and independence of adults, with co-ordinators providing support for people who are often experiencing social isolation.

The executive member for corporate services, Cllr David Chance, said: “We are committed to helping ensure that these strong community links are nurtured and grow to provide support for anyone who feels the effects of social isolation.”

Latest statistics have shown that it is estimated that as many as 30,000 residents aged 16 and over may be experiencing chronic loneliness throughout North Yorkshire – which equates to about six per cent of the county’s population.

We are celebrating the difference that volunteers make by sharing stories from across the county as part of our Team North Yorkshire campaign.

Read more of their stories.

Walk and talk group gets people out to socialise

Getting out and about might seem easy, but for those who have lost a loved one or suffer from mental health issues it can be anything but.

That’s why people like Alistair Wilson have such an important role to play.

Alistair, 68, from Scarborough, is a volunteer for Carers Plus Yorkshire and is involved with the Stepping Out initiative, which organises walks for people who might not otherwise get out and meet people.

Since retirement, Alistair has made volunteering a key part of his life, helping Wetwheels Yorkshire taking people with disabilities and those with additional needs out on the sea and becoming a telephone befriender.

Now he’s helping Stepping Out to become a success.

He said: “Everyone who wants to come is welcome, whether they are lonely or have a disability, for example.

 “We have people in their 20s to their 80s. We started with about four people and now we regularly get around 15 or 16.

“We do different walks all the time; North Bay, Peasholm Park, the esplanade, or we might go round one of the local meres.

“It’s so good to see a smile on someone’s face who might not have spoken to someone for three or four days. I get so much out of it seeing these people come out of their shells.”

Dark times give rise to moves to brighter future

It was the darkest of times that brought out the best in our communities.

The Covid-19 pandemic saw a resilience and compassion emerge to help cope with the crisis.

Among the community organisations established during the pandemic is Skipton Step Into Action, which will benefit from funding through the new prevention grants under the Stay Healthy, Independent and Connected project.

The group launched just before the first lockdown and 360 volunteers were recruited to collect shopping and prescriptions for the most vulnerable members of society. A need was identified to support people who feel socially isolated, and initiatives have been set up, including the Ground Yourself in Green project in Aireville Park. Activities including arts and crafts, yoga and mindfulness events are held each Thursday between April and September.

A well-being café has been established and transport services are being developed after the group bought a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

Skipton Step Into Action’s founder and chief executive officer, Charlotte McKeown, said: “Collaboration is so important across the whole of the voluntary sector, as we are able to help support and bring together our resources.”

Church has become vital hub to tackle loneliness

Eggborough Methodist Church is a true hive of activity, so much more than simply a place of worship.

For the local community, it has become a vital hub at a time when the pace of modern life can leave some people feeling isolated.

After the building on Selby Road was renovated in 2015, a conscious effort was made to reach out to villagers, in particular the elderly.

Their coffee mornings, film clubs, line dancing and tea and tunes events have proved a huge success, with hundreds of people having attended over the years.

In colder months, the church has also operated as a warm space, enabling people to reduce their heating bills a little during the cost of living crisis.

Volunteer Maureen Wood has lived in Eggborough all her life and knows the value of the services the church offers.

“The people who come to these events love them,” she said. “A lot of them live on their own.

“They come to our events and they may know not know anyone, but we make them feel very welcome. They might not know everyone’s name the next time they come, but everyone knows theirs.”

Maureen, 73, added: “If I see someone looking at the noticeboard outside I’ll say ‘have you been to our coffee morning?’

“If they say ‘no’, I’ll say ‘well come, you won’t be sat on your own’.

“I do enjoy it and I would miss it if it wasn’t there.”

Respite service is a lifeline for those in need and their families

When it comes to volunteering, Siobhan Moore has a simple message.

“If you have kindness, compassion and common sense, go for it. Don’t just think about it, do it.”

A children and families social worker in Middlesbrough for 30 years, Siobhan, 69, is a carers respite sitting service volunteer with Community Works, a service for people in need in and around the Thirsk area.

“I met the first couple that I was hoping to be able to support the day after I retired.

“It’s unknown in their culture to consider and trust having support from a stranger. The expectation is that families will look after one another.

“Their daughter said to me ‘for mum to go out and trust you to look after dad is huge’. It was a privilege to keep the husband company while his wife went out and had a bit of free time.

“I did that twice a week until he died.”

Siobhan said she loves meeting people, all of whom enrich her life as much as she does theirs.

“Volunteering is not entirely altruistic. It’s for the feeling that it gives you as a human being; that you are contributing something useful to their lives.

“Everybody has skills and they can be brought into volunteering. All you need is kindness, patience and time.”

Siobhan Moore and her dog