Communities in often deeply rural locations are playing a vital role in helping to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing society, the Chief Medical Officer for England has said.
Professor Chris Whitty has visited North Yorkshire on a fact-finding mission as part of a renewed focus on the significant issues that the country faces with an ageing population.
Professor Whitty, who is also the Government’s chief medical adviser and the head of the public health profession, travelled to Darley in Nidderdale where he witnessed firsthand the invaluable work which countryside communities are doing to help tackle challenges such as social isolation.
As part of the visit organised by North Yorkshire Council, he was shown around Darley Village Shop, which has emerged as a hugely important hub for the community and is home to a Post Office and café.
The shop was launched in 2016 in Darley’s sports pavilion by villagers following a major £60,000 fundraising drive, which included a £10,000 council grant to pay for a new kitchen, after the former village store closed.
Professor Whitty said:
It is really insightful to see how local people have found solutions to support their communities.
What people are doing here in Nidderdale shows what can be achieved, and it is helping address some of the big challenges we face as a society.
People have demonstrated how they can come together to help others, especially during the Covid-19 crisis, and it is good to see this good work is continuing to be built on.
The Chief Medical Officer’s annual report this year is focused on health in an ageing society, and his visit to North Yorkshire was to learn more about some of the challenges faced by rural communities.
The county has witnessed a dramatic shift in its demographics with more elderly people living in North Yorkshire. A quarter of the county’s population is aged over 65 compared to 18 per cent for England as a whole, according to data from the 2021 Census.
Statistics from the latest Census also show that there are 71,639 people aged over 75 living in North Yorkshire – significantly higher than the 58,974 children aged under 10. It is predicted that the number of people aged 65 and over in North Yorkshire will have risen to 215,117 by 2043, equating to a third of the county’s population.
North Yorkshire Council’s director of public health, Louise Wallace, accompanied Professor Whitty on his visit to Darley, which lies to the north-west of Harrogate.
We are committed to providing all the support we can to all sections of society, but there are some very specific challenges with older people.
To have the Chief Medical Officer visiting to see these challenges and also all the good work that is being done by our communities was an invaluable opportunity.
It is so important to have the chance to highlight the efforts that are being made across the whole of North Yorkshire to help support communities.
Darley Village Shop has evolved into a commercially-viable business, selling local produce and freshly baked bread, but the community remains at the heart of its operations with staff working alongside volunteers to deliver meals to elderly residents in Darley and the surrounding villages.
The shop’s manager, Dawn Abbott, said:
We have become a hub for the community, and customers come here not just for their shopping, but to see other people and socialise.
The café is a really popular venue now, it has wonderful views across Nidderdale, and allows people to come and do their shopping and then sit down to simply chat to other people, which is so important.
Professor Whitty also met Tracey Dawson of the Nidderdale Plus Community Hub and heard about the breadth of services which the charity provides. These include a vital community transport service and ‘Coffee, Click and Connect’ digital sessions delivered alongside a team of dedicated volunteers.
Nidderdale Plus also provides minibus trips for socially isolated people in the area’s rural communities, giving them the opportunity to travel outside of the dale and to make new friends.
A team of more than 100 volunteers is at the heart of the services which Nidderdale Plus provides to counter the effects of social isolation and loneliness and enable more people to live independent lives in rural communities.
Ms Dawson, who is a business support officer with Nidderdale Plus, said:
We do have an increasing elderly population here in Nidderdale, and because of that we are seeing a rise in social isolation.
Professor Whitty was also told about the work at the Christ Church Community Centre in the village, which houses a library and stages events including a luncheon club, chair-based exercise classes and coffee mornings.
The chair of the Christ Church Community Centre, Angela Houseman, said:
The biggest problem for many elderly people is loneliness, which we know is a big issue in our local communities.
The events at the community centre provide them with that all important social interaction, helping them have a reason to get out of their home and come along to meet other people.
As part of his fact-finding trip, Professor Whitty also visited The Cuttings Extra Care scheme in Starbeck to hear from public health, social care, NHS and voluntary sector workers about the support for older people in North Yorkshire, including some of the challenges faced in rural areas.
The Extra Care programme launched in North Yorkshire in 2003, and there are now 28 housing schemes, with properties for rent and to buy, across the county.
The schemes offer both purpose-built housing as well as care and support for residents, and some developments also host a local library, a shop or a café.
Professor Whitty was told about key issues including a lack of online access for the elderly as well as poor transport links, the importance of having a sufficient workforce and volunteers, and the benefits of arts and culture and physical activity for older people.
Professor Whitty also visited the Dementia Forward community hub at George Armitage House in Burton Leonard, where he had the opportunity to experience the ‘Hub Club’ run for people with dementia and their carers.
Professor Whitty heard about the range of support offered by Dementia Forward across the county, including support for younger people who had been diagnosed with the disease.
On his final stop of the day, Professor Whitty visited Harrogate District Hospital to hear from NHS and social care staff about examples of health and care integration, including the Harrogate and Rural Alliance (HARA) and North Yorkshire Council’s Living Well project, which is a free service that aims to improve the health, well-being and independence of adults.
He also met members of the Quality Improvement and Assurance Team, who operate as a partnership between North Yorkshire Council and the Humber and North Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership.