The timing of a five-year project to support lonely and isolated residents of the Dales and North York Moors is timely as rural communities are increasingly feeling the strain of service cuts, farming charities say.
With funding from Land Rover UK, the British Red Cross aims to provide emotional and practical help to around 1,000 people, starting from next month. The new Yorkshire Dales and Moors Community Connect service will focus on helping those who are lonely or socially isolated, and who would benefit from short-term support to reconnect their communities.
Volunteers are being sought by the project to help people access services that are already established in the community, such as social groups, fitness classes, community transport, and local community groups which they can accompany them to.
The Red Cross worked with the farming community, Yorkshire Agricultural Society and the Farming Community Network to find out what problems local people face.
Kate Dale, co-ordinator for Yorkshire Rural Support Network at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, said: “For a lot of people living in rural areas, it’s just needing somebody else to talk to. The dynamics of a small family business can be complicated so it can be nice to have someone else to talk to outside of your own family who you live and work with.
“It’s very reassuring that the hidden issues are finally being recognised and projects like the Red Cross are really going to address these and give those who are feeling socially isolated that sense of community back again.
“Living in an isolated place doesn’t always mean you feel lonely so it’s not something exclusive to rural areas but the geography of the countryside makes it difficult to do something about it because of transport issues around getting people to a central point to access services.
“The timing for this type of project is good because budgets are being squeezed. Rural communities have always been good at looking after each other but it does get harder and it is good that some resources, time and energy are being put into this. A little bit of cash goes a long way in rural communities because of people’s willingness to help one another.”
Despite people’s good nature, too many people still slip through the net of organisation’s that can provide support, said Helen Benson, co-ordinator at the Farming Community Network.
“We try and reach people who may need extra support for whatever reason; through ill health, financial constraints, hardship and relationships, succession and retirement, animals diseases and whatever else comes along, but we have large sections of the farming community that are quite stoic and plough their own furrow so it can be hard to reach them when they need support, especially when we have this increasing squeeze on transport and health services in rural areas.
“It’s a hidden problem. As district nurses said some time ago, when you go to a rural area you don’t see a deprived area as you would in the city. By working together we are more likely to achieve results.”
How to connect with the project
The new Yorkshire Dales and Moors Community Connect service is being co-ordinated by the Red Cross’ Pauline Broadwith and her colleague Rebecca Sirrell.
Mrs Broadwith said: “Every crisis is a personal one. We’ll be in the position to provide emotional support, but also the transport to take them to local services like a baby club or coffee morning.”
The project is part of a nationwide partnership, which will see Land Rover UK provide £2m worth of support to 11 Red Cross projects in rural locations.
GPs, health professionals and others can refer people to the service and people can get in touch directly.
Volunteers are also needed. For more details, call 01609 772186.