Skipton Step into Action

February 26, 2021

Our Coronavirus Community Fund has helped more than 35 organisations and groups across the Dales continue to provide vital services during the pandemic.

Since it was launched at the beginning of May, close to £56,500 has been awarded to groups who are making a difference to their health and wellbeing of their communities. The Fund, which is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, is a partnership between Two Ridings Community Foundation and Cumbria Community Foundation.

Its focus is to help people through this unprecedented time to deal with emergency issues because of the continuing threat of coronavirus.

One organisation it has helped is Skipton Step into Action They have been providing a support network for people in the Skipton community during the pandemic, alongside engaging and empowering individuals in the area to establish and foster more powerful neighbourhood connections longer term.

We spoke to founder and project manager of the organisation, Charlotte McKeown, and Trustee and Recruitment Manager, Jane Vincent, to find out how they adapted to the pandemic.

Can you tell us how Skipton Step into Action came about?

CM: We set up on March 12 2020, primarily to support elderly and vulnerable people at what we thought was going to become quite a challenging time! There were rumours of a lockdown, but it wasn’t quite there yet. We decided we needed to move quickly, because we could already see issues in the local community with regards to those shielding, so put the call out online, and the response was phenomenal. We had 200 people register to volunteer within the first few weeks and at the peak of the first wave had 360 active volunteers. People saw what was happening and wanted to help. It was local people supporting local people. When the furlough scheme changed, a number of those returned to work but we have retained 154 volunteers, which is a fantastic number of people offering their time to support others.

What services do you provide?

CM: Initially, we offered help with shopping and collecting prescriptions – those services are still ongoing, and now we also offer a befriending service. We have also facilitated delivering hot meals, litter picking, gardening, organising entertainment in local care homes, knitting and crocheted comfort hearts and mask mates. We have taken 2,300 referrals to date. We have developed strong partnerships and work in collaboration with local councils and VSO’s to best serve the people in our community. We have been successful at finding gaps in provision and offering our support. We want no one to feel they are on their own in Skipton and the surrounding area, and we know the services we offer have been of great significance to lots of people – Please read the testimonials on our Website.

Skipton Step into Action didn’t exist before March – why did you decide to set up such a network?

CM: I was a teacher at a local college for 15 years but was made redundant in November 2019 after the department closed. I set up my own business in January, but just as it started gaining momentum I had to temporarily close down, like a number of businesses, because of Covid. Thinking about the escalating situation, I began to feel really concerned about people in the community who might struggle to cope, unable to get the supplies they needed, so I posted on Facebook, looking for ideas to see how we could support the community. When so many people came forward to help, the group began to grow at a very fast pace. New volunteers were coming on board, people were asking for support and we were busy setting up systems to do it all properly – so for the last eleven months I have dedicated all of my time to this project. It has been truly phenomenal seeing how SSIA has grown from nothing to a flourishing community organisation in such a short amount of time, and seeing the great numbers of people who have come together to help.

JV: We knew from a very early stage, from experience and feedback, that people were lonely, particularly when they were shielding. We have set up a befriending service which includes a friendly phone call to those who need it, ‘Walk and Talk’ sessions and we have established a weekly Online Community. One of our great strengths is that we have always been extremely adaptable, and able to move fast.

Did it surprise you, how much you were needed?

CM: I don’t think we expected to grow as much as we did or at such a fast pace, both in terms of volunteers and need from the community. From the end of March to mid-April 2020 we had 23 referrals a day, and we are currently averaging around 15 per day. We consider our group to be extremely responsive and dynamic, so whatever need is there, we will see if we can help. Now, we are going forward into the community to explore what else is needed. We have become really slick at how we operate and help those who need it and that is thanks to the volunteers and their willingness to go above and beyond. We’ve made some very good friends in the process and developed positive community connections.

JV: I think we have also been surprised by how much volunteering itself has helped people. We know our clients benefit, but the volunteers tell us their role in Skipton Step into Action has given them a sense of purpose. For those on furlough, it has given them a focus, which has been really good for people throughout this challenging period. We have offered training and development for volunteers, such as Conversations for Change, safeguarding and mental health awareness courses, and will continue to do so. It helps the volunteers gain vital skills and will benefit how effective we are.

What are your plans for the future?

CM: Towards the end of the first wave several community groups started to wind down their work, and, for us, our referrals did reduce a little. We did think about whether to do the same – wind down – or continue. When we spoke to our volunteers it was clear they wanted to continue and, looking back, we made the right decision. Our core services are still needed, and we are now taking referrals from the social prescribers at local GP surgeries. The number of befriending requests we receive is growing rapidly, with lots of exciting opportunities ahead.

JV: The response to continue from the volunteers was amazing. It really is local people helping local people. We will hopefully tap into any areas where provision is missing and be sustainable moving forward. We are growing and want to be there for the long term. The people involved want to make a difference and drive the organisation forward too.

On 19th January 2021, less than a year after our formation, we have become a registered charity. Being a charity opens up new possibilities for funding, allows us to explore new partnerships, and ensures that we are committing to a way of working that we can all feel proud of.
The success of SSIA is undoubtedly down to the commitment, passion and selflessness of all of our wonderful volunteers, and we would like to take the opportunity to wholeheartedly thank everyone who has contributed over the past ten months. We look forward to seeing what we can all achieve together in the years to come.

How has the CCF award made a difference?

JV: It was exceptionally important. Charlotte has been working for SSIA unpaid, seven days a week, for the first seven months without any form of funding she was going to have to take a back seat so that she could put her time and energy into other opportunities. Charlotte is the glue that binds Skipton Step into Action together and without her passion and vision we wouldn’t be here now. The funding has helped us to pay Charlotte on a Part time basis for four months (October 2020 – January 2021) to focus on driving the organisation forward. Now we can continue to develop as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, look to the future under a different structure and find ways to help more people in our community.

Click here to find out more about Skipton Step into Action