“She has become a bit of a motif for our time during Covid”, says Judi Alston, gesturing behind her to where Suzi, one of her two greyhounds – and the newest addition to her family, is sprawled out on the sofa.
The dog has made an appearance in the background of almost all of the online sessions she has been running with young people throughout the coronavirus pandemic, workshops held under the banner of the Wakefield-based arts and digital media charity, One to One Development Trust, which Judi set up 30 years ago.
Though much of its work has been virtual this year, the organisation has had a busy 2020. Its creative projects have included creating a website ( with the district’s Young Lives Consortium, an association of voluntary groups focused on young people and families, and it has also run an online arts programme with children’s support service Star Bereavement, covering everything from spoken word to games design and animation. Both were launched in response to Covid to support the mental health of children and young people.
Judi’s adoption of Suzi coincidentally also marked the start of another major project. More than seven months down the line and Local Story is now a growing online collection of stories, photographs, artwork and films celebrating the resilience and community spirit shown throughout the Wakefield district during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Documentary film-maker and digital artist Judi is no stranger to capturing the intricacies of communities and their stories. Indeed, much of her initial work after launching One to One in the late 1980s was focused around documenting the changing face of Yorkshire’s coalfield communities.
“We always seek out stories of inspiration and things of significance in communities,” she says. “As soon as lockdown hit, we could see that communities in Wakefield, in true magnificent spirit, stepped up to the mantle and were doing things to make a difference. It was absolutely fantastic.
“I thought this has got to be recorded. Not only will it be useful for people now, I’m also interested in the legacy of this in years to come.”
One to One had already agreed to work with Anna Hartley, Wakefield’s Director of Public Health on her annual report before the pandemic took hold. They had planned to produce a film focusing on climate change and the environment and its implications for health and wellbeing.
But when the first lockdown began, the project was redefined and the Local Story repository was created by One to One as the 2020 public health report instead. “Anna’s approach of reporting about public health is very accessible,” Judi, One to One’s CEO and creative director, says.
“Previous reports have included a film and a comic. I really admire that she is somebody in a senior health role who is embracing the arts and creative practice as a way of communication.”
Local Story aims to give a snapshot from Wakefield communities of the area’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, whilst also exploring ideas for a greener future. One section of the project website focuses on people’s changing relationships with the environment.
It features a series of ‘go green’ stories from those who have used the pandemic to take to their gardens, connect with nature or think more about climate change and also includes a number of ideas that people can try at home to support the planet.
Another strand of the project looks at how grassroots community groups and organisations have adapted their ‘normal work’ to support and stay connected with local people. And a third explores how a network of community hubs, led by the voluntary sector, has responded to the pandemic.
The selfless work of individuals whose efforts have supported others during an unprecedented period is also highlighted.
Stephannie Miles is among those featured. Disappointed that lockdown meant her family would not be able to continue their annual tradition of travelling to scarecrow festivals across the region, Steph set about staging one of her own among her local community in Featherstone instead.
Her two children, who have differing disabilities, “needed something to look forward to do, that we could all do, safely, and as part of our daily exercise,” she says.
Having garnered support for the event through social media, Steph and her husband Daniel arranged for more than 30 bales of hay to be delivered from a nearby farm and for a week in June, their estate was transformed.
It was, Steph says, the epitome of community spirit, a “rainbow” in the storm. “It was really heartwarming, particularly as kids have missed out on much this year,” she says.
“It was lovely to see something so little - having loads of hay delivered to my drive and saying let’s do this - turn into such a big thing that people were really thankful for...I’m proud of people for pulling together in such a rubbish time.
“It created memories for kids. They’re going to think can you remember when we wore masks all the time to the shops? Now they’ll also be able to say can you remember when we built a scarecrow in the garden and we laughed and there was straw blowing down the street? It’s those silly things that you hope will stick with them.”
The work of Karen Wright, a 2018 contestant on the Great British Bake Off, is also featured. Karen, who lives in the district, spotted a post on a community social media group from a man who was cooking warm meals and delivering them to struggling families and people who were isolating.
“I remember thinking I should step up to the mark here as well,” Karen says. “It’s good to give back.” And so it was that she began batch baking goods to accompany the meals. As more requests for deliveries came in, more people got involved, taking on roles in everything from cooking to delivering, shopping and logistics.
Karen became coordinator for the bakers’ group whose members made treats including scones, banana bread and lemon drizzle cakes to be distributed to people across Wakefield and beyond, between the months of March and July.
Her motivation was twofold – to be able to help others, but also to keep busy and focused. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to get some joy in your life out of helping others,” she says. “It gave me a sense of worth and a feeling of being part of something, and also something to get up for in a morning.”
Among Judi and her team, there has been “real energy and passion” in the drive to find local stories to feature and share. That will continue to be the case, she says, until the project comes to a close in March next year.
Judi wants the finished Local Story repository to remain a lasting legacy of this time for future generations and she also hopes to bring to life a physical exhibition of some of its content. For now though, with lockdown mark two underway, One to One continues to adapt its project work - and Suzi, of course, will remain a staple of Judi’s online workshops.
To see or contribute to Local Story, visit localstory-wakefield.co.uk
Contributions can also be emailed to [email protected]
Visit the Young Lives Consortium website project, a place for young people to find information and advice as well as self-help tips that can increase confidence and resilience, at www.wf-i-can.co.uk