How we helped the Bentham community through the pandemic

April 12, 2022

The resilience of local communities to help people through the pandemic is something that touched everyone over the course of the last two years.

Supporting the elderly and those vulnerable was vital as restrictions to control the virus left many isolated and seeking help.

In Bentham, the community gathered around each other wherever it could – and our Coronavirus Community Fund, which was supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, allowed organisations in the village to continue their important delivery without worrying about the financial impact of coronavirus.

Delivered in partnership with Two Ridings Community Foundation and Cumbria Community Foundation, more than £58,000 was awarded to 38 projects across the Dales and surrounding areas through the Coronavirus Community Fund, with four organisations receiving support in Bentham.

Bentham Older People Together helps provide a safe welcoming environment for older people in the community. It aims to reduce rural isolation and loneliness, improve individuals’ health and wellbeing and bring together differing generations in the village.

They received funding to help staff and volunteers support older people remotely and ensure the organisation could continue to provide support in a time of financial uncertainty.

Sue Bloxham from the group said: “When the pandemic first began, we knew we had to help older people in our community as much as possible. We had part time staff and a network of volunteers providing telephone support, befriending and delivery of essentials such as food and medicine to people in the area.

“Many of these people were already participants in our lunch clubs and were facing isolation and loneliness, which was only exacerbated by the crisis. The need for this help increased because of social distancing and the sheer need in the community.

“As restrictions started to ease, a lot of our users were still isolating and so we needed to help them wherever we could. We also needed to ensure that when we could get together once again, it was done in a safe way so that everyone would feel secure to come out again.”

The group supports clubs that meet three times a week to share lunch and enjoy activities such as keep fit, talks and special games. It is an opportunity for older people in Bentham to get out and about, meet their friends and help their wellbeing.

Volunteers also chat with members of the group and signpost to Deb Hawkins or Andrea Tuohy, the organisers of the different clubs, if there are any issues that require further support.

“It’s a great thing that people in Bentham, over the age of 70, can come together in a safe environment,” Sue added. “The support of YDMT got us through the early pandemic and then allowed the clubs to meet in groups again. Thank you.”

Elsewhere in the village, Bentham Primary School received a grant to ensure children and staff remained connected and creative during the pandemic. 140 students received a Grow Your Own Activity Kit over the summer of 2020 which enabled them to propagate various seeds and learn about plants, flowers and gardening.

The packs were delivered by staff at the start of the summer holidays, allowing them to maintain their connection with their pupils.

Bentham Youth Cafe & Community Youth Charity also received support to help improve wellbeing in vulnerable people in the Bentham area.

When the pandemic first took hold they were reaching out to families through craft packs and also running a ‘pop up pantry’ where any member of the community could come – under the slogan ‘give what you can take what you need’ – and access not only basic food essentials but also choose from a stock of clothes, toys, books and DVD’s with the aim of reducing isolation.

The grant was also used to provide sporting equipment to families through the summer months. They purchased items such as footballs, skipping ropes, tennis balls, tennis rackets, plastic cones and hula hoops which were made up into individual packs.

David Bayes from the group said: “The pantry was open twice a week and a steady flow of people came to collect food. We also offered a box delivery service each week to those unable to get out of their homes. There is no doubt that this facility was a huge help to those using the service in coping with aspects of the pandemic, and especially aspects of wellbeing whether financial, emotional or relational. There are many stories of people sharing with the volunteers the invaluable help that the pantry provided in getting through this time.

“The grant and other support has made a lasting impression in the town. The Pantry continues whilst the youth club has happily reopened in new premises at the Town Hall and is quickly establishing a strong reputation.”

Finally, Bentham Allotments Association (BAA) used their grant for fencing and gates on their new community allotment site.

This project was, in part, a direct response to Coronavirus, as the community realised the importance of quality recreational outdoor space and local food production during the initial lockdown.

The BAA site has 22 plots, all of which are tenanted for the second year running. It will be hosting Craven College and hopes to help facilitate the work of community groups such as Pioneer Projects – who also received a grant from the Coronavirus Community Fund for work with those with dementia – over the coming months.

Tenants have grown food for the local food bank, and plan to increase the amount of fresh food donated during the second growing season, whilst the group also intends to develop the area of land it has set aside for community plots.

Sarah Hardman from the group said: “We first looked at this project in autumn 2019 but it was when lockdown hit that we were able to initiate it. We noticed the lack of space for people to grow their own food and, just as importantly, ensure good mental and physical health.

“We signed a lease on the site in November 2019 and then worked hard to get the funds together to make it happen. The National Lottery awarded us a grant to connect to mains water and then funding from the Craven Trust paid for a contractor to get the water from the road into standpipes on the site. YDMT’s grant paid for fencing and gates, and we couldn’t have done this without it. It has been a real community effort to bring it together – particularly at a time of real uncertainty.

“We have achieved so much, and we want to do even more to ensure it becomes a real community facility. That is very important after what has happened over the last two years.”

Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, added: “It’s brilliant that at a real time of need, players of People’s Postcode Lottery were able to help voluntary organisations and community groups respond to the issues raised by the pandemic.

“These groups have had a huge impact on their communities; allowing people to not only access vital support such as medicines and food at a difficult time but also helping them feel less isolated and more connected.

“We’re delighted funding raised by our players was able to do this, and make a real difference to the people of Bentham and across the Yorkshire Dales.”