D&S column: the community pulls together

It has been hugely reassuring and gratifying to hear about the way people in North Yorkshire have responded so magnificently in this Coronavirus national emergency.

I have spoken frequently over the years about the amazing strength of our local communities. Never has that strength and cohesion been so needed and so evident in recent weeks.

As the emergency continues and the numbers of cases increase, I think it is important to reflect on the many good and inspirational things that are happening in Hambleton and Richmondshire. So many people and organisations are really going above and beyond to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

Two weeks ago I paid tribute to the many businesses that had responded to the lockdown and isolation measures by launching delivery services. Since my constituency office staff started compiling a list of these businesses – updated daily on my website - it has more than doubled in length.

The COVID-19 support groups set up on Facebook in every town have continued to grow in size as the number of people prepared to help with those deliveries – not just of food but prescriptions and medicines – come forward.

Our county council has played a vital role in co-ordinating the efforts of these groups and the wider voluntary sector to ensure that the large number of elderly residents in our area who may be living alone and in isolation are looked after.

Staff at our two district councils are also playing their part in maintaining essential services and also making sure the economic aid for companies I have announced in recent weeks gets to them quickly.

I was delighted to hear that within just days of the schemes opening to applications, Hambleton District Council had paid out £11m to more than 1,600 businesses and Richmondshire District Council had distributed £5.4m to 470 businesses.

The vast majority of remaining businesses eligible for these lifeline grants of £10,000 or £25,000 are expected to be paid by the end of this week.

So many people and enterprises are coming up with new ideas to help in the crisis. Like Labman near Stokesley, an amazingly innovative automation and robotics company I have had the privilege of visiting.

It has given over half its production area to the making of masks for the NHS and other frontline health workers with help from local people and even whole families, who are volunteering to work together.

The firm is producing up to 3,000 masks a day on a not-for-profit basis which are going to the James Cook University Hospital and other health facilities in the area.

This is a critical time for the NHS locally as the pandemic approaches its peak. I have received regular updates from local health managers and doctors. They are prepared and I am pleased to say the Friarage Hospital is playing its part. Doctors, nurses and support staff are doing an incredible job under great pressure.

At the start of Easter weekend – not that it feels like it in these extraordinary times – I make no apology in repeating the phrase: Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. It is only by doing so that we will protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Lastly, I am sure you will join me in wishing the Prime Minister a safe and speedy recovery.