A COUNCIL which has built a 6,300-member army of volunteers to ensure key and popular services are maintained in the face of dwindling Government funding is setting out its approach and commitment to unpaid helpers.

The strategic move comes more than five years after North Yorkshire County Council unveiled a vision to galvanise communities to help it deliver services, ahead of staffing and budget cuts.

At the time, the council’s leader Councillor John Weighell said asking volunteers to perform key services would “take a lot of selling” to the public, but the authority’s executive member for Stronger Communities, Councillor David Chance, said it had transpired that while there were some areas with larger numbers of volunteers, there was also a good spread across all communities.

He highlighted the council’s 338 Ready for Anything volunteers, meaning there are helpers on the ground for emergencies such as the recent flooding in the Yorkshire Dales.

Last year, home library service volunteers delivered more than 50,000 items to 14,000 people who cannot get to a library and 98 countryside volunteers spent 1,322 hours maintaining public rights of way.

Other voluntary roles range from teaching assistants for Syrian refugees to  gardening and conservation activities.

The council also promotes and supports volunteering more generally in the county through its Stronger Communities programme and by co-funding the Volunteering in North Yorkshire service.

Cllr Chance said it had become clear that setting out clear policies on operational issues such as expenses and training was essential to ensure volunteers were correctly valued and fairly supported.

He said: “We have got volunteers who help us in all areas of the county council. We recognise the help they give us and I am astounded by the amount of commitment we get from volunteers.

“Our approach to volunteering has been haphazard in the past, so we are looking to make it fair and uniform across the county.”

While the strategy is aimed at volunteers that are managed directly by the council, it recognises there are also many volunteers, managed by other organisations, who also contribute to its services. The council will encourage the other organisations to adopt and implement similar practice.

The drive for volunteers has benefited from the county’s ageing population – the proportion of the population aged 65 and over rose from 20.7 per cent in 2011 to 23.3 per cent in 2015.

Some previously council-run services are almost entirely staffed by retired people, leading to future staffing concerns if fewer people are able to retire early.

Cllr Chance said: “At the moment there is no sign of us having a problem. Continuity planning is something we are very conscious of.”


FOUR volunteers who support North Yorkshire County Council services have spoken of their experiences as the authority launches a strategy to help manage the unpaid helpers.

The council says while volunteers bring great value to service delivery, they also benefit themselves gaining experience, developing skills, giving something back to local communities, improving career prospects, and improving wellbeing.

Aimee Walker, 17, is a Youth Voice volunteer. She said. “Being part of youth voice has provided me with experiences that I wouldn’t have found at my school.

“Since joining my communication skills have improved massively, allowing me to talk to professionals on their level about a variety of professional topics that they work on. It has also built my confidence in many aspects from public speaking to travelling to new and different areas.

“The best part of being part of the Youth Voice Executive is getting to meet lots of different people from all different walks of life.”

Maureen Osborne is 67 and volunteers at a library one morning a week. She said: “You can get so much satisfaction out of volunteering no matter what you’re interested in. There’s always someone to help me and it’s such a nice place to work. I’ve no intention of stopping and as long as I’m able I’ll keep volunteering. I do think that by doing this I’m not getting quite as old as my numbers would suggest I am!”

Nick Palmerley signed up to be a Ready for Anything volunteer in 2018. He’s 45.

He said: “One of the reasons that I wanted to get involved is because my parents were very badly flooded in the floods of 2000. I saw first-hand the devastation that causes and the immediate help that people need at the time of the incident, which is anything from reassurance, giving cups of tea, giving out blankets, making sure people are warm and safe and know what’s happening.”

Pauline Percival has been a volunteer with the North Yorkshire Rotters for over 12 years. She’s 61, lives with her husband and is a keen gardener.

She said: “Sometimes people have come up to me at events and say they spoke to me the year before and that they’ve really changed their waste habits. It’s a lovely feeling, the passing on of that information and knowing you’re making a difference. That’s the biggest thing for me.

“Aside from the Rotters I help other people with their gardens on an advisory basis, producing and growing plants. I find being outside and seeing things growing really helpful for my mental health. You can see the seasons changing and it just gives you that hope and positivity for the coming year.”