The volunteers who are bringing pride into the heart of our communities

With spectacular natural landscapes, picturesque villages and vibrant market towns, North Yorkshire has an enviable identity as an attractive place to live, work and visit.

Many are rightly proud to call North Yorkshire home, and some give up their time to make sure the county is always looking at its best.

We are fortunate to have a thriving and committed network of volunteers across the county, with those involved making a real difference to thousands of people, and this month we’re recognising those helping to keep North Yorkshire looking beautiful.

As well as the tireless efforts of volunteer litter-pickers, that civic pride is also seen as spring flowers begin to bloom and are enjoyed by the countless visitors helping to grow our visitor economy.

Green-fingered Grace Coop loves nothing better than making sure Starbeck is looking its best for local communities.

Having moved to the village 12 years ago, she is a member of the award-winning Starbeck in Bloom group and is passionate about improving community spaces.

Grace and 22 volunteers are involved in litter picking, planting, weeding and fundraising to keep Starbeck looking clean and tidy.

Their hard work paid off last year when they were awarded gold in Yorkshire in Bloom’s urban community category.

In the run-up to competitions and judging days, volunteers wash the street furniture such as the benches and rubbish bins along with working on any other areas that need a touch of care and attention.

Grace said: “Over the years, I have been involved in many litter picks. We often collect six to seven bags of rubbish, covering the whole of Starbeck, including the Northern Rail station and Starbeck Library’s garden.

“We plant bulbs and perennials where they are needed, plant the containers with annuals and keep them watered and deadheaded, prune the shrubs, and litter pick when necessary.

“I enjoy being out in the fresh air doing a worthwhile task, looking back and seeing an area we've cleared of weeds or rubbish or seeing the colourful flowering areas I have helped to make.

“We know that the people who live in Starbeck appreciate what we do - they often stop and tell us so. Most of all, I enjoy the friendship of the others in the group.”

Armed with a litter picker and donning a high-visibility jacket, Nick Fletcher is passionate about helping to keep the parks, pathways, green spaces and neighbourhoods in Malton and Norton free from rubbish.

A founding member of the Malton and Norton Tidy Group, which was formed in 2009, Nick is among a small group of dedicated volunteers who spruce up the streets of the two towns by targeting litter hotspots. During the past decade, they have collected 4,300 bags of rubbish.

He said: “I have attended numerous community clean up events since the group was formed. In fact, too many to recollect!

“I have met some lovely people and made good friends during clean up events. I really enjoy the social element and company. I also feel that I am making a difference to the appearance of the towns and doing something positive for the community. It feels great to give something back.

“Not only is litter unsightly, but it also blights the countryside and affects the environment and wildlife. Litter picking keeps me active and gets me among other people.  Plus, when I help tidy up an area, it gives me a great sense of achievement.”

The Tidy Group meets on the first Sunday of every month and our street scene teams provide litter pickers, bags and gloves.

Tucked away in Scarborough is a community garden which offers a tranquil space for green-fingered volunteers to tend to plants, grow food and help wildlife to thrive.

Darren Mancrief is the founder and the co-chairman of voluntary group GROW Scarborough, which cares for the garden at the Coast and Vale Community Action (CaVCA) headquarters.

As well as learning about the pleasure of gardening, The Street venue has held almost 90 sessions such as community picnics to enable people to socialise with like-minded nature lovers.

Darren said: “By getting involved in the community garden, volunteers can enjoy the outdoors and being close to nature, learn new skills, improve their health and wellbeing, and grow organic fruits, herbs and vegetables to share with the community.

“After the Covid-19 pandemic this seemed a great idea to get the community back together, as a place where we can look after each other as well as the plants we nurture.

“The project is all about sharing and for me it harps back to my childhood memories of tending to vegetable patches with my family. I wanted to recreate that feeling.”

Members of GROW Scarborough will work closely with the town’s library to launch a ‘Seed Hub’, where people can swap and share seeds. It started online, but the library offered an accessible base.

The group plans to increase access to free fruit by providing more than 20 trees in partnership with the council to be planted in public spaces tended to by local volunteer groups.

Even the most beautiful landscapes can be tarnished by the sight of litter that is thoughtlessly thrown out of car windows or left behind on days out.

Those of us old enough to remember the Wombles will recall furry creatures in Wimbledon Common teaching the nation how to collect and recycle rubbish.

Fast forward to the present day, and North Yorkshire boasts several Womble groups, one created by Claire Hampson, a full-time teacher.

The Wombles of Hambleton launched in 2018 in Northallerton and expanded to Thirsk in 2021. The litter-picks usually attract about 30 people.

Claire said: “Since the Wombles was created, we have collected about 14,500 sacks of litter.

“Our main aim is to protect the environment and wildlife. It’s also great for physical and mental health as it gives us a purpose to get out of the house and walk more. I’ve made great friends. After each litter-pick we usually meet for a coffee or go to the pub.

“We work closely with council officers who take the litter and provide equipment if needed. We also report any fly-tipping. We have a common goal in the fight against litter.”

Claire is an ambassador for Keep Britain Tidy and has made friends with fellow volunteers from South Korea to America, where they encounter the same problems around litter.

In her spare time, Claire helps to educate other community groups such as the Scouts and the Women’s Institute. More details about the Wombles group are available on its Facebook page.

If you’ve been inspired by our Team North Yorkshire stories, see more information about volunteering in North Yorkshire.

Community groups and residents across the county are also invited to take part in the Great British Spring Clean, which runs from runs from 15 March to 31 March. Back for its ninth year, the Great British Spring Clean is the nation’s biggest environmental campaign and encourages everyone to think about how they can help tackle littering.

Litter-picking is a simple action that anyone can do, and it makes an immediate and visible difference to the environment. You can find out more about the campaign and pledge to pick up a bag of litter on the Keep Britain Tidy website.

The Great British Spring Clean is organised by Keep Britain Tidy, which this year celebrates its landmark 70th year of protecting the environment.