OPINION: Charities and groups are working hard to restart their activities - Karen Weaver, Harrogate and District Community Action

Open Country members connecting with nature on their allotment.Open Country members connecting with nature on their allotment.
Open Country members connecting with nature on their allotment.
The positive signs of spring are everywhere now, arriving at the same time as hopeful indications that life can return to something like normal as the lockdown restrictions are carefully lifted. Catching up with family and friends outdoors, enjoying a drink in a pub beer garden or a marquee meal in a local restaurant are all things that we took for granted previously which now seem quite exotic!

Just as pubs and restaurants have had to reinvent themselves in order to re-open, charities and community groups are going through the same process, working out how to re-start activities and safely bring people together. Village halls and community centres are busy with risk assessments and support groups and services are grappling with how to get their activities underway. I was delighted to hear this week that the excellent local charity Open Country is ready to hold its first companion cycling sessions since 2019, giving people of all abilities the opportunity to enjoy the freedom and fun of peddling through our beautiful local countryside.

Over the past year many of us have realised just how important it is to be out and about, whether walking, running or cycling. Research has shown that being outdoors and able to enjoy nature is really good for our wellbeing, and I’ve certainly appreciated various walks in my own neighbourhood, and noticed wildlife and wild flowers in a way I didn’t before.

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This week (May 10-16) is Mental Health Awareness Week, led by the Mental Health Foundation, and they have chosen nature as the theme for 2021. The aim is to inspire more people to connect with nature in new ways, and notice the impact on their mental health. The organisers also want to make the case that access to nature is a mental health and social justice issue as well as an environmental one. There are some fantastic charities around the Harrogate District which already embrace these aims and make sure that people facing a wide range of challenges can benefit from connecting with nature. I’ve already mentioned Open Country, based at Community House; other examples from a very long list include Horticap in Harrogate, Orb and Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre in Knaresborough and Ripon Museums Trust and the Ripon Walled Garden in Ripon. Then there are the big players such as RHS Harlow Carr and Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, which as well as being great places to visit provide plenty of opportunities for volunteers to get involved in their stunning locations. Finally there is the myriad of community groups which work so hard to look after local open spaces such as the Pinewoods Conservation Group in Harrogate and Friends of Hell Wath in Ripon.

If there has been a downside to our expanded love of the outdoors over the last year it is that some people sadly think it’s ok to leave their litter behind. The national Keep Britain Tidy charity is now recruiting Litter Heroes to support the Great British Spring Clean which starts later this month. Many of our local groups are already getting involved so look out for more info locally, or sign up via www.keepbritaintidy.org to find out more about this excellent initiative to show some love for the special places that have helped us all through lockdown.

Don’t forget that you can find out more about local community groups and organisations via our online community information directory at www.hadca.org.uk . We also share up to date info on local charity events and activities as well as a wide range of local volunteering opportunities.

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