'Small gestures go a long way' - How one Harrogate resident's kindness is tackling loneliness in the community

In a modern era characterised by convenience and continual strides in technology, the connections we have with one another are in many ways greater than ever before.

Thursday, 16th January 2020, 12:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th January 2020, 12:06 pm

And yet, as these connections grow, where we are able to communicate with almost anybody at the click of a mouse or the press of a button, some people may fear that the golden age of looking out for our neighbours has been lost as the busyness of everyday life consumes us, and we become absorbed by what is happening on a screen rather than what is going on around us.

Social contact in the traditional sense, a simple ‘hello’ in the street, or small but powerful gestures to show that we care are important now more than ever. In the Harrogate district and right across the whole of North Yorkshire, we are blessed to have thousands of residents who actively make a difference to so many people’s lives every single day in our communities, and that is something we can all feel truly proud of.

To celebrate this and help to encourage others to do the same, the Harrogate Advertiser, in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council and sister JPI Media titles in Yorkshire, is launching a major year-long campaign called Salt of the Earth, which will share inspiring stories and examples of the very easy but meaningful ways that we can all make somebody’s day brighter just by showing some kindness.

A wonderful friendship: Judith Simpson with 96-year-old Sheila Pantin.

Life is busy, and we don’t all have time to sign up and formally volunteer for an organisation, as much as we would like to, which is why Salt of the Earth has a particular focus on the informal but impactful ways that we can be kind and help those around us.

Examples might include a village that has set up a dog walking rota and rallied to help an elderly resident keep their beloved pet despite mobility issues, or it could be somebody who is a real lifeline for their neighbours in the winter, who simply picks up some groceries or clears their drive in icy conditions.

We already know that North Yorkshire is an amazing place, so it’s time to really showcase our kind county - full of people who are the true definition of Salt of the Earth. Let’s work together to inspire even more people to make a difference, and show that even the smallest of gestures can go a long way.

'Small gestures can go a long way' - How Judith's tea parties have helped to tackle loneliness and social isolation in the Harrogate district

Judith's tea parties have been a social lifeline to the Harrogate community.

As a nation of tea drinkers, there can’t be many things that come more naturally to us than having a good old-fashioned natter over a cuppa.

Many of us might think that when it comes to making a meaningful difference to someone’s life, it always stems from a more formal volunteering commitment - signing up or registering to help a particular organisation in the community.

However, as our very first Salt of the Earth campaign feature demonstrates this week, we all have the power within us to brighten someone’s day, and this can just be on a very simple and informal basis that fits effortlessly into the busyness of modern life, and enriches it.

Harrogate resident Judith Simpson loves having a chat with friends over a cup of tea and a slice of cake - something that is so everyday and routine, and a simple pleasure that millions of us indulge in right across the country.

Judith knows that a cup of tea can be a great catalyst for conversation, friendship, companionship, and a tonic for tackling issues such as loneliness and social isolation as we sit around a table.

With this in mind, Judith has taken such a simple and everyday concept that is already a natural fixture of her life, and used it to bring joy to others, and herself, by hosting tea parties at her home for anyone in her church community who may be feeling alone.

Sheila Pantin, 96, whose much-missed husband Henry died two years ago, is among the attendees of the tea parties, which have been going as an informal arrangement for five years since Judith retired.

Sheila, who is still very outgoing and independent and maintains a real get-up-and-go zest for life, said the parties are a wonderful social occasion that she really looks forward to.

Sheila said: “After my husband died, I wasn’t lonely, but I was suddenly alone. The social side of the tea parties I enjoy, I feel as though I am needed. Some people are very introverted and want to socialise but don’t know how to go about it - I always chat to people and make them feel welcome. I’ve made new friends too.

“My favourite expression which is one of my father’s, is, ‘laugh and the world laughs with you - weep, and you weep alone.”

Judith is keen to emphasise that the parties are a very easy, simple thing to do that anybody could organise. She doesn’t host them at fixed intervals, but every now and again - showing that kindness doesn’t need a timetable, and that small gestures can go a long way.

Judith said: “It’s so simple, anybody can do it. It’s not a big or onerous task, and it seems like a very natural thing to do to be able to invite people to tea.”

Charities across the UK have described loneliness as a hidden epidemic that can affect one of us at any time. Age UK highlights that half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone, and four million older people cite their television set as their main companion.

When someone is feeling lonely or isolated, taking the first step to go out and attend social events where you don’t know anybody can often be the most difficult and daunting step, but the naturalness of a tea party and the familiar everyday commonality of a cup of tea can help to break down some of these barriers.

Judith said: “Tea is a natural way of conversing, it’s relaxed and very informal, and there is nothing formal about tea.

“So many people when they are left on their own lose confidence, they lack self-esteem, and they give up. And it’s very easy to give up, because suddenly the whole world has changed and unless you are really quite strong and determined to make the most of things, it can be so difficult. A lot of people won’t do things unless they are drawn out.

“Hosting a tea party at your home, and creating that homely atmosphere, it feels like a family for a little while.”

Sheila said: “The atmosphere at the tea parties is great, everybody wants to chat, and it’s very sociable. Some of the people who go along have no one to turn to, and perhaps haven’t spoken to anybody for days.”

When Judith and her husband Granville drive to the countryside, they have often invited people along with them who might otherwise find it difficult to get out - again, something that the Simpsons would be doing anyway as part of their day-to-day lives together, but they have used it as another opportunity to help others, and it also enriches their days out, too.

Judith said: “Me and my husband like driving out into the countryside, so we can offer that to other people - come with us, why not, it’s easy. It also relieves the monotony of two people doing the same thing.

“It’s a two-way thing - it’s lovely for us to just be able to share things with other people and show off how beautiful Yorkshire is. It widens your circle of friends, and it’s the same with the tea parties.

“If you’re sitting at home on your own, your horizons can feel small, so to be able to get out and be with people is a journey, and it gives people more confidence.

“It also gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing and happiness to know that people are happy and enjoying themselves. It’s good company for us as well.”

Judith said small acts of kindness can make all the difference - she has found even a simple ‘hello’ or a ‘good morning’ lifting her own spirits on many occasions.

She said: “We all need to feel that other people care about us, to feel valued and part of the outside community, and the world. There are so many easy ways that we can help each other.”

Backing for the new Salt of the Earth campaign

The leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Carl Les, said: “North Yorkshire is held dear to the hearts of many around the world for its warm welcome and strong sense of community spirit.

“We are celebrating those values and our culture by showcasing how acts of kindness, great or small, have a huge impact on our people and places. Whether it’s walking a dog for someone who loves the companionship of their pet but can’t exercise them anymore – or picking up a bit of extra shopping for a neighbour who can’t get out – we know these acts help make our communities really special.”

The chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, Richard Flinton, said: “We know that North Yorkshire folk are intrinsically kind and we are moved by the really positive impact that generosity has on the lives of people across the county on a daily basis.

“But we also know that sometimes things can get in the way of people feeling empowered to help, even when they really want to. So we hope that by hearing about the experiences of others we can help overcome some of those worries or barriers. We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Harrogate Advertiser and other JPI Media newspapers to pay tribute to the people of North Yorkshire and to help inspire even more acts of kindness.”

The chief executive of Harrogate and Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service, Karen Weaver, said: “Here at HARCVS we have the joy of helping connect people who want to help up with those who need some extra help to stay independent and well. A friendly chat over a cuppa, helping defrost a freezer, clearing a path of wet and slippery leaves – these are all things that can make a big difference.

"Arguably if everyone was kinder there wouldn’t be a need for charities to even exist. Of course some problems need more than individual acts of kindness to solve them, but it’s great that the Harrogate Advertiser and North Yorkshire County Council are highlighting the vital importance of small acts of kindness and neighbourliness. We can all do our bit within our families and with friends and neighbours.”

Join in and be part of our new Salt of the Earth campaign

We would love to invite you to get involved with our Salt of the Earth campaign - is there someone who makes a real difference in your life? It could be that they take you to visit your GP, perhaps they regularly collect your parcels from the sorting office, maybe they always buy an extra cream cake and find time to share it with you.

Whatever it is, we would love to hear about the people who are having a positive impact on your life. Get in touch today by emailing: [email protected]