Supporting people to make a difference in their communities is one of our main roles here at Harrogate and Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service.
Promoting volunteering is one way in which we do this but we also have wider ambitions to promote social justice and equality of opportunity in the Harrogate District.
This means, for example, that we are signed up to the Living Wage campaign, and that we participate in variety of partnership groups working together on issues such as community safety, financial and social inclusion and health inequalities.
A thriving and active voluntary and community sector can make a huge contribution in all these areas and we aim to ensure that there are strong connections and positive collaboration with the public and private sectors as well.
One of the most exciting things about working in the voluntary sector is the range of organisations and people involved and the many different ways in which things get done.
Colleagues in other sectors say it all seems a bit confusing and messy, and sometimes that is true. However if we can focus that energy and creativity with some timely guidance and information, then community action can achieve amazing things.
Voluntary, faith and community organisations can be the first to spot new issues and needs, and quickly mobilise people into action.
Ensuring this is done safely and legally is essential, and again we are able to advise on what is required, but we aim to support and enable action rather than thwarting good ideas and enthusiasm.
A thriving local voluntary and community sector makes a difference in so many areas, including health and wellbeing, the environment, the arts, heritage, transport and learning.
Sometimes the impact can be highly visible (community events, festivals and green spaces) but in other areas the work is highly sensitive and takes place quietly and carefully, supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
One example of this is the Harrogate District Foodbank, which opened in 2013 and last year provided 1,461 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis.
The foodbank is entirely volunteer-run and over 90 per cent of the food distributed is donated by the public.
The local donation point is at Waitrose Supermarket and you can visit https://harrogatedistrict.foodbank.org.uk to find out more about items currently required (long life fruit juice is top of the list).
There is a well co-ordinated local network of agencies that are able to issue foodbank vouchers to those in need.
People can also access additional support to help address some of the issues behind the reasons for the crisis, which can vary from delays in benefit payments through to divorce and unemployment.
Even though there is low unemployment in our area, many jobs are quite low paid and what is known as “in work poverty” is a reality for some. The foodbank works with Citizens Advice, housing support officers, children’s centres, health visitors, social services, the MP’s office and local charities and offers compassion, kindness and a listening ear.
Offering a warm welcome and practical help to people new to our area is another way in which community action can make a huge contribution, and as with the foodbank this often linked to faith groups of all denominations.
Over recent months a small number of Syrian refugee families have arrived in our area and have benefited from a well co-ordinated effort between councils, health services and voluntary organisations.
People who have arrived with literally nothing have been quietly and carefully welcomed and helped to settle in and adjust to life in a completely different culture and community.
One small example of this was the effort made to meet a request for lawn mowers and instructions on how to use them. Grass cutting is an unfamiliar activity but one which the families want to learn in order to be good residents and neighbours.
Being able to provide each family with a TV might seem a luxury to some, but is really vital in assisting with learning to speak English and understanding life in the UK.
Finally this month I’d like to highlight another unseen band of volunteers who swing into action at this time of year at Harrogate Community House. We see how much work is undertaken by the Royal British Legion as they co-ordinate a whole army of poppy sellers.
Please support them and the work of the Legion by buying a poppy and making a donation. If you could also donate some items to the foodbank you too would be quietly making a difference in your area.
For more information, visit www.harcvs.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @harcvs.