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Council warned against 'dumping too much' on volunteers

Monday, 6 March 2023 15:29

By Stuart Minting, Local Democracy Reporter

The outgoing leader of Craven District Council has warned against “dumping too much on the door” of volunteers when the new North Yorkshire Council takes over next month.

The comments came as a move was unveiled to hand £1.5m to community groups to increase the support they have provided since the pandemic.

A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s corporate and partnerships scrutiny committee heard several elected members raise concerns the authority could see potential volunteers and some of its army of volunteers deterred by being over-burdened or facing too much red tape.

Minutes before the meeting, the authority issued a statement pledging the new North Yorkshire Council would be “the most local council nationally” and that community and voluntary organisations would be an important element in ensuring the council delivered on that promise, acting as its “ears and eyes” as Community Anchor Organisations.

It stated funding would be made available to the volunteers’ groups to increase their capacity, rather than being targeted at a specific project, and to “strengthen the resilience of communities to build on the solid foundations that developed during the pandemic”.

The meeting was told a significant number of community support organisations the council had worked with since the beginning of the pandemic were continuing to work on the authority’s programme to face the challenges facing communities over cost of living and winter pressures.

Councillors heard the volunteers’ groups had expanded their remit from delivering medicines and groceries to activities such as supported shopping trips, accompanied walks, social events and support groups and activities.

While in 2019 the council counted the number of volunteers it had to ensure key and popular services were maintained in the face of dwindling Government funding at 6,300, the meeting was told last September the number was about 4,000.

However, councillors heard the authority, would hand £1.5m to volunteers’ groups over three years to support the health, wellbeing and prevention agenda, and wider community resilience.

The meeting was told the funding would help volunteers work on the council’s programmes to prevent and reduce health inequalities, improve community resilience and boost social regeneration.

After hearing of the plans, Councillor Richard Foster, the leader of Craven District Council, said: “We have to be really careful we don’t break our volunteers in North Yorkshire, especially in some of the smaller rural villages. They are doing a huge amount of volunteer work.

“We gained volunteers through the pandemic, people who didn’t realise they wanted to volunteer, and we are using them in doing things for the districts and county, in the Stronger Communities team,

“We’ve got to be careful we don’t dump too much on the door because some of them are wondering where their actual life themselves has gone due to volunteering and what they’ve got themselves into.”

The committee’s acting chair, Councillor Bryn Griffiths, said he had heard members of his community state they were “volunteered out”, while Councillor Nick Brown said the authority needed to keep volunteering as free as red tape as possible as people were just interested in helping their local communities.

After the meeting, Coun Griffiths said while there had always been a concern the volume of retired people who were able to volunteer would drop off, the number of volunteers working on services previously provided by the council in his Stokesley division had fallen significantly since the pandemic.

He said while some of the volunteers had found alternative ways to spend their time during the pandemic, others were concerned about the potential consequences of volunteering on their health.

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