Team North Yorkshire celebrates vital role played by volunteers

The army of volunteers helping to deliver services for hundreds of thousands of people are being praised for the key role they are playing throughout 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.

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.

However, with the hugely challenging financial situation facing the public sector with dramatic rises in inflation and the cost of living leaving us facing a £30 million deficit in the current financial year, the work of volunteers is being seen as increasingly crucial.

Throughout the next 12 months, the council will celebrate the difference that volunteers make by sharing stories from across the county as part of the Team North Yorkshire campaign.

Jonny Mottram

Jonny Mottram

To mark the launch of the county-wide campaign, we will join thousands of charities and voluntary organisations in celebrating the national Volunteers’ Week, which begins on Thursday, 1 June.

Council leader, Cllr Carl Les, said: “We are very fortunate to have a thriving and committed network of volunteers in North Yorkshire, with those involved making a real difference to thousands of people.

“Many volunteers are motivated by simply wanting to help others, so it is only right that we highlight their work. They play such a pivotal role in not only helping the council but a wealth of other organisations too.”

Volunteers have supported the delivery of our services, including helping to manage and maintain public rights of way, promoting the authority’s reduce, reuse and recycle waste reduction priorities and working with the archives team.

They are also critical in a vast range of roles such as keeping North Yorkshire libraries open, helping run schools as governors and supporting the emergency response during major incidents.

Chief executive, Richard Flinton, said: “We are fortunate to have the army of volunteers to help us to deliver the services that are so important to communities across the whole of North Yorkshire.

“We are extremely grateful for the commitment, energy and enthusiasm of volunteers and thank them wholeheartedly. Throughout the next 12 months, we’ll continue to celebrate the difference that volunteers make by sharing stories from across the county as part of our Team North Yorkshire campaign.”

Since launching at the start of April, we have already embarked on work with community and voluntary groups to help support volunteering.

Funding has been provided to allow the organisations which are established across the county to develop their roles and act as so-called community anchors.

Val Stewart

Val Stewart

A total of £1.5 million in funding, which will be spread over the next three years, will help build the capacity of the community and voluntary groups to act as key points of contact for the council, providing hubs for the public to access advice and support and to increase resilience in communities.

The value of volunteers to help deliver vital services has been recognised in North Yorkshire for many years, especially in the face of financial constraints.

Mirroring other local authorities across the country, the former North Yorkshire County Council had to consider the future of its libraries in the face of cuts in funding from the Government. The library service saw its budget almost halved from £7.8m in 2010 to £4.3m in 2017/18. However, 1,200 volunteers came forward to ensure the facilities kept open.

A long-term commitment was made in October last year when the county council’s executive agreed to grant leases for a 10-year period to support the continued operation and development of community-run libraries.

Residents can also nominate their local heroes for awards to honour volunteers who make a difference in their community.

The council has opened nominations for the annual Community Awards, which recognise organisations and individual volunteers who selflessly dedicate their time to improving lives. This year sees the introduction of a new category aimed at recognising those who have launched initiatives to tackle climate change and support the natural environment.

The closing date for nominations is 4 June. Complete a nomination form.

Find more information about volunteering in North Yorkshire.

Meet the volunteers

Val Stewart, Skipton

‘It is a way of meeting people, but also learning about things’

Few people will understand the responsibilities and rewards of volunteering better than Val Stewart.

Not only has Val, who lives in Skipton, undertaken a wide variety of volunteering roles during her life, but spent 14 years as volunteer co-ordinator for Carers’ Resource in the area, managing the needs of volunteers and the people they supported. She recruited, trained, supported and placed volunteers and made sure they were happy.

“Volunteers did everything from helping run a huge Edwardian garden fete at Broughton Hall to every month turning out to run lunch groups and coffee mornings around the area for the unpaid carers,” she said.

“Carers Resource supported family carers, so the husband looking after the wife who was ill, the daughter looking after mum, etcetera. It was a very wide-ranging charity. We dealt with child carers right through to an 80-year-old lady who was looking after her mother.

“For a volunteer, the pay is getting what they need out of it, whether that is gaining work experience, building up friendships or getting confidence. It’s a volunteer co-ordinator’s job to try to ensure that they get what they need, otherwise they leave.”

Val’s own volunteering roles have ranged from four years with Samaritans to a classroom assistant to helping at a stroke unit and the RSPB peregrine falcon watch at Malham Cove.

Since retiring last year, Val, 65, volunteers at Craven Museum, Skipton, as well as front of house at The Folly in Settle.

“I have moved around a lot,” she said. “So it is a way of meeting people, but it is also a way of learning about things that I wouldn’t overwise have much contact with and using skills that maybe your job doesn’t use.”

At the museum, she is part of a team cataloguing the collections, currently working on social history objects – everything from police shackles to medical equipment to jewellery.

“I have always been interested in history, but always thought I was useless at it because in my day you were taught history as dates and battles,” she said. “That never really grabbed me, but I have now discovered social history, so I am thoroughly enjoying it.”

Jenny Hill, museum and collections Lead at Craven Museum, said: “The work that volunteers like Val do really helps us to be able to keep sharing stories from the museum collection and to make it accessible for visitors and researchers. It also helps us to conserve and protect the collection for the future. We are incredibly grateful for all the help and support from volunteers.”

Val believes anyone who wants to volunteer should be able to find something to suit them.

“If somebody has the time, they will probably find something that interests them, whether it is working with steam railways or sitting on the end of the phone listening to someone in real despair, as I have done,” she said. “It is whatever you find fulfilling.”

Diane Clarke, Selby

‘Volunteering is a great way to meet people’

When Diane Clarke approached Selby Abbey to offer her City and Guilds standard flower-arranging skills, she found herself being offered a role in the café instead.

That was more than three years ago, and while Mrs Clarke occasionally helps out with the flower displays, she has found a niche which allows her to use some of the skills she acquired in her professional career, as a financial analyst.

She was promoted to manage the café and gift shop, a voluntary role which frequently sees her working onsite during busy weekend periods, while doing more back-room work at home to make sure the operation runs smoothly, with shelves stocked, ingredients ordered for the kitchen and staff rotas drawn up.

“I enjoy myself because this job brings back a lot of what I did. I enjoyed it then and I still do,” she said.

She is responsible for a team of around a dozen volunteers who keep the café and gift shop running. They have responsibilities for crucial areas like hygiene, reflecting the trust placed on those who give up their time to help out.

Work has now started to expand beyond the ‘traditional’ volunteering roles, often taken up by those in retirement.

So in future, it is hoped that people with special educational needs will be among those taking up volunteer roles at Selby Abbey, to help to provide them with experience in the community.

Work experience opportunities are also expected to be offered, through colleges in the area, to help students spend time in a working environment, which could make an important contribution to their CVs.

“Volunteering is a great way to meet people. You can do good for them and it is rewarding,” Diane said.

The vicar of Selby Abbey, Canon John Weetman, said there were around 100 volunteers – in an age-range from nine to 90s – providing a huge range of support.

“Our volunteers are absolutely essential. We would not be able to operate without them,” he said.

They range from greeters and tour guides, to bellringers, choir members and clergy who take some services. While some volunteer their time because of their faith, others do so to help support the wider community reflecting the wide-ranging welcome and variety of opportunities and activities that Selby Abbey provides.

Bev Lawrence, Richmond

‘It makes me feel I am able to give something back’

For Bev Lawrence, it has been an opportunity to employ her vast experience as a teacher while rising to a new challenge.

After a 38-year career in the teaching profession, which included working with special needs pupils at The Dales School in Morton-on-Swale, near Northallerton, Ms Lawrence retired in 2015.

However, she decided to help out in classes to teach English to refugees from some of the most troubled countries in the world after hearing of the volunteering opportunities through friends.

Bev, from Richmond, is a teaching support volunteer for the English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) courses, which are held in her hometown, and has helped refugees from countries including Syria, Iraq, the Sudan and Afghanistan.

She has been supporting the ESOL classes for the past six years and volunteers for up to four hours every Monday, working alongside a teacher, Cath McNeil, at Richmond Town Hall.

Mother-of-one Bev, who is married to Keith, said: “It has been a great experience and it has been inspirational working with these people who have come to a new country to make their home here.

“The lessons not only teach them a new language, but they give a structure and a value for how they can understand British society.

“Coming to North Yorkshire has given them the chance to integrate into communities that have been so welcoming, and it is a totally different experience to one that they would have perhaps had if they had arrived in a big city or town.

“I have loved the opportunities that volunteering has given me, as it makes me feel that I am able to give something back to society after all the experience I gathered during my career as a teacher.”

Jonny Mottram, Harrogate

‘We are very proud of Jonny in everything he does’

For 25- year-old Jonny Mottram, volunteering allows him to meet new people.

For the people he serves coffee and cakes he brings chatter and laughter.... and sometimes music.

And for the managers of the Kiosk at Conyngham Hall, he is one of a vital band of people that keep the Knaresborough facility open for refreshments, tennis and crazy golf.

Jonny, who has Down’s syndrome, had been a regular at Community Stars in Harrogate for some time – a venture which encourages people with learning difficulties into work.   When they asked if he and his father, Tim, would work at the kiosk every Friday, they jumped at the idea.

His father said: “Jonny loves variety – he doesn’t like to do the same thing every day and at the kiosk he enjoys handing out golf clubs and tennis rackets and meeting and talking with the customers.

“He sorts out the crazy golf and pitch and putt course and sees people on to the tennis courts. He is very good at cheering people up – he loves to talk to them and if they are lucky he will do some rapping, another of his passions!”

Jonny who lives with Tim and mother, Heidi, in Easingwold, says the kiosk is “an amazing place to go to and work at”.

“We have always wanted to give Jonny the opportunity to have a go at everything – and he is always keen to help other people too. We are very proud of him in everything he does – it would be so easy for him to sit at home on a play station but that’s not for him,” added Tim, who does his share of volunteering too.

As a retired accountant and teaching assistant in a special school, he believes that it is important to “give back” to his local community and help people in Jonny’s situation.

“The kiosk is a great facility with something for everyone – none of the activities have a price allowing people to make a donation that they can afford for their game of golf or tennis. We both enjoy meeting people and doing something for the community – and Jonny loves the fun side of it, especially the chat,” added Tim.

Clare Robinson, the co-founder of Community Stars which is run in partnership with Chain Lane Community Hub, said: “Volunteers like Jonny and Tim are vital – we couldn’t operate the kiosk without them. Jonny and Tim are a great team – they bring joy, warmth and laughter to Fridays.  

“Jonny loves working on the sports side as he can do that independently. In the volunteer world we are all friends – and at Community Stars we want to give everyone an opportunity to work together and give something back to the local community.”

Alex Callaghan, Scarborough

‘I get personal fulfilment out of helping people’

For 16-year-old Alex Callaghan, what began as work experience has grown into something that might well become a lifelong commitment to volunteering.

Alex, from Scarborough, has been a regular volunteer at the town’s library for about 10 months, switching to Filey library to carry on his good work during the recent major refurbishment of the Scarborough branch.

Looking to the library for work experience was a natural choice for Alex, as his father, Fred, works for North Yorkshire Council’s library service.

Alex’s role sees him supporting customers and staff in everything from shelving books to providing IT support and helping to organise events.

“Obviously, it looks good on my CV,” he joked. “But I get personal fulfilment out of helping people and getting involved with the community.

“I have learned a lot about customer service and working as part of a team in a kind of retail environment.

“A personal highlight was helping two elderly gentlemen who were computer-illiterate. I helped them through the process of printing their plane tickets to Singapore. That was very rewarding, because they had no idea of what they were doing.

“I like libraries. I have always used them, throughout my life. I think it’s crucial that they stay open and that people keep going into them.”

Alex fits his volunteering around studies at Scarborough Sixth Form College, where he is working towards A Levels in maths, further maths, physics and history with a view to a university degree in aeronautical engineering.

His volunteering has gone beyond work experience and he intends to carry on until next Easter, after which he will need to switch his focus full-time to his exams. But this is unlikely to be the end of volunteering for Alex.

“It is definitely a thing that I’ll continue doing if there is somewhere that I think needs it or where I would like to help out,” he said. “It is important, because money is always tight for many organisations, so any help is appreciated.”

Alex was looking forward to returning to the reopened Scarborough library this month.

“Some of the changes are going to bring in more customers,” he said. “There is a new children’s area right near the front of the library, so that will appeal to lots of families and enable a lot more to go on.”

Which means plenty of work for Alex and his fellow volunteers in the months and years ahead.

Libraries interim general manager, Hazel Smith, said: “Library volunteering is a rewarding and sociable way to get involved in your local community. We have volunteers of all ages fulfilling roles such as general assistant, IT buddy, home library volunteer, local studies volunteer and various opportunities to help with children’s events and activities.

“For some, volunteering is a great way to stay connected with their communities or stay active and engaged after retirement and for others, particularly young people like Alex, it is an opportunity to gain valuable work experience and learn new skills.”


Gabby Parsons, Ryedale

‘I like being part of something and everyone is so friendly’

They are the moments when the emergency services are placed under the most intense pressure and need all the support that they can get.

Gabby Parsons is among the team of Ready for Anything volunteers who provide invaluable help with the emergency response during major incidents and practical support to people whose lives have been affected.

Mrs Parsons lives in Whitwell-on-the-Hill between York and Malton and has been a Ready for Anything volunteer for about five years, and her role has seen her helping support communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said: “I used to work in the care sector, so I like to keep an eye out for people and make sure they’re OK.

“I’ve had one call out to go check on somebody in covid because a relative was worried about them and they weren’t answering the phone.

“When I got to the door, he was just fed up of them ringing all the time and had unplugged it! So I just reported back that he was absolutely fine.

“One of the things I really enjoy is helping with training sessions for the emergency services. We all evaluate what could have been done better so you learn a lot about how you can help people. How would the emergency services train if they didn’t have volunteers like us?”

Initially established in York following the Boxing Day floods of 2015, the Ready for Anything project has since been extended into North Yorkshire. There are now more than 300 volunteers involved in the initiative in York and North Yorkshire. 

On the camaraderie between Ready for Anything volunteers, Gabby Parsons, who is a mother to three grown-up sons, said: “It’s nice to do something when you’re with lots of other people and the atmosphere is always brilliant. I like being part of something and everybody is so friendly.”

Her message to anyone thinking of volunteering is to simply give it a go.

Mrs Parsons said: “I’d say just try it. I do other things as well, like cleaning the signposts in the village. If I’ve got lots of eggs, I’ll do a baking day and make buns for everyone.

“We had a wonderful Jubilee celebration last year. I just like doing stuff and feel very passionate about the area. When they ask for your nationality on a form, I always put Yorkshire!

“When I was 16 and left home, I went to work on a pig farm. A local family took me under their wing and I used to go down for a couple of meals every week and I’d call in after work so I could have a bath.

“When it was teatime the other three children and I used to get sent out with meals for the older people round the village. They taught me about community and how it should be. People looking out for each other.

“It would be lovely if we can get more people doing that and talking to each other again. My motto has always been to just be kind.”

Paul Freestone and Shirley Smith, Whitby

‘You meet people from all walks of life’

Partners Paul Freestone and Shirley Smith have decades of experience as keen gardeners to make them ideally placed to advise people eager to do their bit for the environment.

Paul, 65, became a North Yorkshire Rotter five years ago, after retiring as a teacher. Shirley, 67, joined him when she retired from her job as a medical secretary.

Our Rotters are volunteers from across North Yorkshire who highlight practical ways to reduce, reuse and recycle waste, offering advice on topics including home composting and food waste.

The couple are passionate about gardening and have a third of an acre at their home in Whitby.

“We have poured 25 years into the garden, so it’s just about getting how we want it,” said Shirley. Paul added: “Just another 25 to go.”

He continued: “The Rotters’ ethos is something I believe in strongly. I am a keen environmentalist, so I thought this is something I really want to do.”

His partner added: “It is something close to our hearts. We feel we want to give something back. So many people at shows will come along and say they’ve got a compost bin, but it’s too wet or too dry, so we can give them advice to make a better job of it. We find it very rewarding.”

“We can use our personal experience,” said Paul. “We have been gardening for many years and we feel that part of the volunteering role is educating those who need that extra little help.

“It’s very rewarding, as well, because you do meet people from all walks of life. They, too, would like to do their bit, so it is rewarding to know we are pointing people in the right direction.”

The couple have done shows, talks and workshops with everyone from Scouts and schools to Women’s Institute groups. And they travel to other parts of the county, too, including Harrogate Flower Show recently.

“We go anywhere they want us,” said Paul.

Rotters can give as much or as little time as they are able, and the group is keen to welcome new volunteers on the coast. Anyone interested can find out more from our Rotters volunteering page.