How people in Yorkshire's communities are helping each other during lockdown

Amid the roiling pandemonium of recent weeks, many families have been fearful over how they can care for their loved ones when they cannot be near.

Sandra Walker has been volunteered in the Nidderdale area.

But within the bonds of community, an answer is emerging as society opens its arms.

It's a simple solution, say those at the fore, which takes care of one another while ensuring their roots remain anchored in every town and village.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

"We are just neighbours, helping neighbours," says Pocklington volunteer Ruth Jackson. "It's just on a slightly grander scale, that's all."

Sandra Walker is one of many volunteers in the Nidderdale area.

In those first few days in the East Yorkshire market town, people had mobilised themselves. What started with a hesitant suggestion has grown to a small army in matching tabards.

They pick up prescriptions, walk dogs, and collect shopping. There are teachers, offering advice to parents at home, a retired GP, IT professionals, a university lecturer.

Within a week of the lockdown, there were 80 volunteers, and when it doubled they suspended the register.

All it is is community, says Ms Jackson, who first set up the group with friend Zoe Hodgkin.

Sarah Stockdale, a Pocklington Covid-19 support group volunteer.

Join our new coronavirus Facebook group for the latest confirmed news and advice as soon as we get it"I'm quite sure, through this, a lot of us will have found new friends," she adds. "It does show how adaptable, how resilient and innovative our communities are when they need to be. I hope it will be a legacy of this time."

One of the biggest challenges emerging, says civil servant Ms Jackson, is that local businesses aren't open. In a market town, the ripple effect that creates is amplified.

Without the businesses, their workers are worried about money. And what will happen to these precious assets, once this is over?

"A really important part of this is supporting them, so that they are still here after this, so we can still go on."

Sarah Stockdale, a Pocklington Covid-19 support group volunteer, dropping some goods off to a member of the community.

In those first few days, the volunteers had been picking up prescriptions and shopping, then they linked with a nearby foodbank called the People's Pantry.

Referrals were coming in from adult children living outside the town, who were worrying about their elderly parents unable to get to the shops.

And while it was initially older people they were helping, that is slowly changing.

Many people who were self employed are now struggling financially, as are those that have been furloughed, said Ms Jackson.

Last week there was a trickle coming through, but this is rising.

"People are often proud, they are used to doing everything for themselves," adds Ms Jackson. "Then, to be in a position where they're finding it difficult, it's quite a culture shock. If they feel proud about it, it's on credit rather than free. We are here to help absolutely everyone, in whatever way we can."

In Nidderdale, many of the networks were already in place. This is a community used to being more independent than most, with a rural population which is vastly spread out.

Covering care for each home has been broken down into zones, like a spider's web that winds its way to even the remotest of communities.

And while it may seem to have sprung up overnight, this network of lines has been carefully calibrated.

First there are the 23 Community Support Organisations (CSOs) covering the county of North Yorkshire, and six in the district. Within Nidderdale and Washburn, there are now 13 churches and parish councils linked to coordinators.

On the hills, each zone has been allocated a volunteer. There are 600 to choose from.

"It feels as if we've got our arms around the problem," said Helen Flynn, executive co-chair at Nidderdale Plus which is now designated CSO lead.

"It's challenging, in an area like ours where it's so sparsely populated, but we are trying. It seems as if these rural areas have some advantage. We already tend to rely on each other, to an extent. People are quite used to putting their hand up to say 'I'll help'."

In Nidderdale, Mrs Flynn now finds herself coordinating volunteers. The outdoors education centre at Bewerley Park is in charge of prescriptions, its teaching staff now delivery drivers. A library service is on its way, with its own quarantine plan.

The challenge comes in the geography, and the sheer size of the area.

Some houses, used to being cut off completely in winter, are so far from their neighbours they cannot be seen from the road.

Again, the outdoor education centre is put to use, with its vans. Staff know the tracks and routes to get to homes more out of the way.

And there is a sense of independence from many farmers, adds Mrs Flynn, in being well used to fending for themselves.

"It's more elderly people we are helping, who are living in more isolated situations," she said. "There are a lot of them. And one of the big problems in rural areas is that many people, when they present to doctors, come too late. It's that mentality, that they will 'get on with it'."

Another emerging issue is food banks, in a traditionally affluent area. It is already happening, says Mrs Flynn, and she fears it will worsen with more people out of work.

"That is a worry for people, about being able to get food, with no money," she said. "There is a pride, in not wanting to ask. But if push comes to shove, what else can you do?"

Sarah McNab is outreach and development worker for Otley Action for Older People, which quadrupled in size in the space of a week.

Trying to describe what kind of work they've been doing, she begins to cry softly at the heartache that so many have already endured.

There was the woman whose bank account was hacked. The family, isolating at home after the daughter's organ transplant, who had no food and no money.

They couldn't get an order online, and even if they could, they couldn't have paid for it.

"She said she had donated to the food bank a few weeks ago, and now here she was asking for help," said Mrs McNab. "That is someone who doesn't want help. Whose only concern, normally, is in giving. I'm just so thankful she called, when she needed it."

The network usually supports the elderly, running lunch clubs and groups and a choir. Now it has been extended to cover neighbouring Yeadon, and people of any age.

"We have been doing this for years, it's just the norm to us," she said. "But in this scenario, it becomes a genuine lifeline."

The Otley Courthouse, an arts venue in the West Yorkshire town, has been vetting volunteers, alongside Leeds City Council.

They had 100, then another 90 came forward. But the CSO is now supporting hundreds more who are isolating at home.

Mrs McNab says what is striking is the speed at which communities have rallied.

"We ring Otley foodbank every day," she said. "There are pockets of deprivation that seem to be hidden. I can't get how quickly people have responded to this. We can see a need, we respond."

Most of all, she adds, she is so proud of the army of volunteers.

"They are remarkable," she said. "I am in awe of them. They are just so helpful, it's heartwarming, in a horrible time. They are going out there, putting themselves at risk, but they do it. Please don't forget about the people who are doing that, for no gain, other than to help."


Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

Almost certainly you are here because you value the quality and the integrity of the journalism produced by The Yorkshire Post’s journalists - almost all of which live alongside you in Yorkshire, spending the wages they earn with Yorkshire businesses - who last year took this title to the industry watchdog’s Most Trusted Newspaper in Britain accolade.

And that is why I must make an urgent request of you: as advertising revenue declines, your support becomes evermore crucial to the maintenance of the journalistic standards expected of The Yorkshire Post. If you can, safely, please buy a paper or take up a subscription. We want to continue to make you proud of Yorkshire’s National Newspaper but we are going to need your help.

Postal subscription copies can be ordered by calling 0330 4030066 or by emailing [email protected] Vouchers, to be exchanged at retail sales outlets - our newsagents need you, too - can be subscribed to by contacting subscriptions on 0330 1235950 or by visiting where you should select The Yorkshire Post from the list of titles available.

If you want to help right now, download our tablet app from the App / Play Stores. Every contribution you make helps to provide this county with the best regional journalism in the country.

Sincerely. Thank you.

James Mitchinson