Extraordinary times call for extraordinary people. This week, I visited a community support group in Settle that is managing to spread a lot of happiness during these dark days.
The Quaker meeting rooms in the usually bustling market town of Settle have become the venue for a weekly support group, run by Settle Community and Business Hub. This group was started by Jo Rhodes four years ago.
Normally, Settle Hub does live drop-ins for people at their office in the centre of town. Pre-covid, the Hub was a focal point for local residents, charities and businesses to find out what was going on locally and connect. Now, Zoom drop-ins are available for people who are unable or unwilling to travel into town.
In addition, every Thursday, staff and volunteers provide food, drink and covid-safe activities for anyone who walks through the door and wants a chat and a cuppa. There is always something for people to do –when I visited it was soap making.
As many services have been cut back due to the pandemic, the support group also signposts people to other charities or services offering support. Many visitors have issues such as addiction, caring responsibilities, long-term physical or mental health problems, or recent redundancy. The impact of covid has meant that many living alone feel particularly isolated.
As well as the social and signposting aspect, basic computer and phone help is available for visitors. This can be as simple as putting a SIM card in a new phone, showing people how to use the covid app, or practice things like Zoom. For those wanting a more structured course, the group has teamed up with the Good Things Foundation, which offers simple online courses such as learnymyway.com
I sat down with some of the visitors to find out what the group means to them.
Adam, a long-term visitor and helper, explained:
“I needed somewhere to go instead of stopping in all the time. I met Dave and Colin here”.
Angi, a visitor and now volunteer, was showing people how to make Christmas trees from old catalogues.
“I know from personal experience how brill this scheme is. I attended a glass fuse painting workshop and now I’ve been inspired to buy my own equipment and go to a workshop in Nelson.”
Other trips and workshops have included chocolate making, Chinese brush painting, falconry, knitting, a day trip to Carlisle, ‘action for happiness’ courses, cooking lessons, and IT skills. Jean, aged 79, told me:
“It’s been a godsend. I live on my own and didn’t have anyone to teach me about computers. All that’s changed now. I feel much more confident using Zoom because I’ve been able to practice here”.
In fact, everyone I spoke to at the group had their own personal story to tell about how the setting had changed their lives. Colin said, “I was going through a terrible time after my wife died of cancer. One day I walked past and decided to step in. I’ve never looked back. I’ve met some great friends”.
Pat, who is originally from Donegal, explained to me over a cuppa how she has been helped by the hub’s rural business project to develop an idea for an invention – for a gadget to promote child safety. Settle Hub connected her with the right people to pitch, licence and manufacture prototypes. Sharing skills and building connections is one of the many benefits of the hub and groups like this.
Settle Hub is also still operating covid-safe activities through their time bank scheme, where local residents can trade skills in return for time credits. For example, one of their volunteers who has been made redundant is starting a Spanish conversation practice on Zoom with a Spanish speaker. Other things happening include a buddying system for cookery skills, computer support and allotment help.
I left the group feeling inspired and humbled by the dedication and energy of the volunteers, visitors and staff. Settle Hub is a real beacon of light during these dark days. For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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