Yorkshire communities pull together after years of council cuts

Goathland Community Library has been going nearly a year
Goathland Community Library has been going nearly a year
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One of Yorkshire's biggest rural organisations has praised people in the region for their resilience and ability to "come together to take collective action" in the wake of enormous council budget cuts.

Leah Swain chief executive of charity Community First Yorkshire said cuts to councils over the last decade have hit the countryside hard - particularly in North Yorkshire, which is the only council in the region that is predominantly rural.

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Community First Yorkshire runs a range of community projects across North, South and West Yorkshire and works in partnership with organisations in East Yorkshire, to help people struggling with essentials, needing advice or suffering from loneliness or mental health issues.

Mrs Swain said there has been a shift “towards communities doing more for themselves” as councils have been forced to reduce services.

Budgets at North Yorkshire County Council have been slashed by nearly 40 per cent since 2011, leaving the council forced to cut £157m from local services by 2018/19.

A further £40m of cuts are expected by 2021/22.

Mrs Swain said: “Over the last 12 months I have heard numerous Brexit commentators saying that the only certainty is there will be uncertainty. For me, that is just the norm when you lead a charity – we are never able to be certain what funding we will have from year to year, how many requests for support we will receive or whether local and national policy will impact on our priorities or ability to get the job done.”

She highlighted the success of North Yorkshire County Council's community library scheme, which saved all but one of the local libraries faced with closure, as 2,500 volunteers stepped up to help.

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In April 2017, community groups took over the running of 22 libraries, joining nine already under volunteer management, after North Yorkshire’s library budget was almost halved from £7.8m in 2010 to £4.3m by 2018.

"They now have longer opening times, a higher footfall and more services and activities on offer than they ever did as local authority owned libraries," Mrs Swain said.

Coun. Carl Les, chair of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive committee, said although the reduction in services has been forced upon the council by budget cuts and he hoped austerity had come to an end, many community services have now “become success stories in their own right”.

“We’re pleased and proud of the volunteers who have stepped up to the plate and taken them on.”

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He said growing up in North Yorkshire, lots of local services like sunday schools and football clubs had always been provided by volunteers, but more people than ever are engaging with their communities.

“By in large, these have been a new pool of volunteers.”

Mrs Swain agreed, adding: "Building communities and tackling issues are suddenly back in favour and fashion.

“Even if all the spending pledges being thrown around at present come to fruition - and even if there was more money in the system - we should hang on to what we have learnt during austerity about putting communities in the lead and looking for strengths, not deficits, in those communities."

The organisation said its priorities for next year would include continuing work to tackle loneliness, new projects with partners who support young people, and extending its Ex-Forces Support North Yorkshire helpline and social activities for the older veterans the charity supports.