Team North Yorkshire: Swapping the classroom for volunteering gives Marian new lease of life

Matthew and Mike Clarke with their HELP volunteer Marian Knowles.Matthew and Mike Clarke with their HELP volunteer Marian Knowles.
Matthew and Mike Clarke with their HELP volunteer Marian Knowles.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, those in need have become the focus of the county’s attention.

In towns and villages across North Yorkshire, community groups have sprung up, with friends and neighbours offering a plethora of help and assistance for those in need.

Harrogate looking to cash in on rush for ‘staycations’ as soon as lockdown eases

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There are as many stories of how we have been impacted by the pandemic as there are people in North Yorkshire.

The Harrogate Advertiser has joined up with North Yorkshire County Council to launch the Team North Yorkshire campaign. Marion Knowles is the first of our community heroes to feature,The Harrogate Advertiser has joined up with North Yorkshire County Council to launch the Team North Yorkshire campaign. Marion Knowles is the first of our community heroes to feature,
The Harrogate Advertiser has joined up with North Yorkshire County Council to launch the Team North Yorkshire campaign. Marion Knowles is the first of our community heroes to feature,

In 2020, The Harrogate Advertiser’s Salt of the Earth campaign celebrated people whose acts of kindness had improved the lives of those around them.

Our new campaign, Team North Yorkshire - launched in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council - aims to build on that sense of community concentrating on the groups that engage with the people around them, looking to improve their mental health, wellbeing and quality of life.

In a series of monthly features throughout the course of the coming year, The Harrogate Advertiser will focus on those who aim to build more vibrant communities and tell stories of the residents who ‘look out’ for each other and in turn help themselves.

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Many informal arrangements have been put in place and have persisted throughout the pandemic, and for those who haven’t had access to these, other means of help have been made available.

In Harrogate, Community Support Organisation Harrogate and District Community Action (HaDCA) have ensured that the elderly, infirm or those otherwise vulnerable have not been forgotten about.

HaDCA’s army of over 200 volunteers has supported individuals and families on nearly 6,000 occasions with shopping, prescription pick-ups and odd jobs to enable them to stay safe at home.

Frances Elliot, Chief Executive Officer, Harrogate District and Community Action said: “We can’t thank our volunteers enough for the enthusiasm and passion they have shown for others and the cheerful way they continue to carry out the tasks.

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People come to us as a trusted source of support, knowing that our staff and volunteers will go the extra mile to ensure they have everything they need.”

One such volunteer is Marian Knowles who has been shopping for the Clarke family almost since the pandemic began.

Marian, 58, said: “I retired about six months before the first lockdown and I just wanted to do something to help.

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“I looked for local things to do. I’d spent 36 years as a primary school teacher, at Grove Road in Harrogate, mostly teaching early years, nursery and reception.

“Because I already had a North Yorkshire DBS check I knew I should be able to start straight away, so I looked online for local voluntary organisations and came across the Harrogate Easier Living Project (HELP) which is run by HaDCA.

“I’ve been shopping for a family who are shielding as their son has been treated for cancer. I do it as a regular thing, Mike gives them a shopping list and I go.

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“I’ve done it all through the year and I’ve also been marshalling at the vaccination centre. People are relieved to be going to get the vaccine - it’s really positive. It’s made me feel like I can do something really positive.

“I was ready to retire, but I don’t feel old enough to be doing nothing. Because of the job I did, it’s in me to do something helpful. I feel like I’m doing something useful and doing something good psychologically for me.

“I’d certainly recommend to anybody to become a weekly shopping volunteer.”

If you need assistance, you can contact Harrogate and District Community Action (HELP service) by calling 01423 813096 or email [email protected] (office hours are 9am-4pm Monday-Friday).

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Column: Life will be different to how it was before‘We could not have managed without HELP’

As soon as Matthew Clarke, 39, finished five months intensive treatment at St James Hospital, Leeds, for an aggressive form of head and neck cancer, he and his family were advised to enter into their own lockdown.

Matthew, who was living with his parents, Mike and Julia, in Harrogate, needed constant care at home as the treatment had exhausted him.

He was unable to swallow, needed a series of daily medicines and could take only liquid food through a pump.

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His dad, Mike Clarke, said: “Matthew had responded very well to the treatment but it meant that he had a severely compromised immune system and all the tremendous work that the NHS had done was now at risk from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Matthew was discharged from St James Hospital, on March 3, 2020, about two weeks before the first national lockdown - and when panic buying besieged shops and supermarkets.

Mike said: “We faced a much greater imperative to lockdown immediately because, if either Julia or I caught Covid-19, we could easily have passed it onto Matthew as, at that stage, no face masks or visors were available.

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“Also Matt needed constant care, and the areas in the house that he used had to be kept sterile, so we did not have time to leave home, even if we wanted to nor, due to the care he required, did we have the necessary spare time to try to book a supermarket delivery slot as they were constantly busy.”

The family managed in the short term with their freezer and pantry contents and emergency deliveries from the Government as Matthew had been identified as ‘extremely vulnerable’ and requested to shield by the Department of Health.

Then the family received a call from North Yorkshire County Council.

Mike said: “A lady called us to ask if we were ok and if we were having trouble getting food.

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“When we explained our predicament and how we were caring for Matthew virtually constantly from 7am to 7pm, she put our name forward to HELP in Harrogate who then contacted us.

“HELP were fantastic and started a vital weekly shop.

“We email them a weekly shopping list and they shop for us and there is an efficient mechanism for repaying.

“During the summer we were designated a kind and helpful shopper, Marian, who has been a lifeline for us and, where she has not been able to find an item at the supermarket we usually buy from, has been prepared to go elsewhere to find it, so it really is a top-class service.

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“Knowing we had a designated day and reliable support was crucial for us as we can plan what we need and know we will get it.

“We are very grateful for the support that HELP has provided and could not have managed without them.”

A year on, Matthew has had two clear MRI scans, is continuing to recover well from the treatment and hoping to return to work when the pandemic subsides.

His recovery is not only down to the love and care of his family, but also down to the support of the people at HELP.

Get in touch:

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If you are supporting someone in your community during the Covid pandemic, thank you.

You are making a big difference in these challenging times.

If you would like to get involved and start to help others by volunteering then you can find advice about how to help safely and discover links to the many volunteering opportunities around the district at

If you have a story that you would like to share on your experiences of either volunteers who have helped you, or of your work as a volunteer yourself then please let us know...

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