(This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 17th August, & the Gazette & Herald on 15th August 2018)
In his column from 19th August 1978, my dad talks about a letter he deceived from a reader who hailed from Devon. She’d recently visited North Yorkshire and was impressed by our quiet roads, spectacular countryside and pretty towns and villages. But what stood out more for her was the kind nature of its residents. “She writes that the people of the region are most friendly and helpful. She found helpfulness wherever she went, particularly in the shops and cafes,” he tells us.
As I write, I’m listening to BBC Radio York’s Yorkshire Day coverage (you might recall I write these columns about two weeks in advance) and that spirit that Dad talks about is more than evident. I’m filled with a real sense of pride listening to people from all over North Yorkshire who have come together to celebrate the day in the station’s ‘Cake and a Cuppa’ drive.
The initiative has the aim to not only bring people together, but also to help tackle the isolation and loneliness felt by some in our area. Initially, events were held once a month in various locations around the county and they would broadcast for the day from wherever it was.
But the idea gathered momentum, with some villages and community groups deciding to set up their own and hold them regularly. It led to the idea of a massive Cake and a Cuppa event specifically for Yorkshire Day and more than 50 communities all over the county (and even one in India!) took part.
The value of such gatherings cannot be underestimated. In my home village, we have a mini version every week after the morning service in the Catholic church hall. Volunteers bake cakes and serve tea and coffee and it is open to absolutely everyone, not just those who have attended mass.
I know my mum won’t mind me saying how beneficial she has found it since the deaths of my dad and sister. We other children visit as often as we can, but we live some distance away so of course my mum has to face many days alone. This is a place to go where people know her, know her situation and where she is always welcome. It’s one of many small things that enable her to get through each week.
Mum made a valid point to me yesterday about rural life in that you can live in a place for many years, and if it wasn’t for gatherings such as this, you might never know who lives on the other side of the village. Our local shop is at the centre, and the main street is more or less one long straight mile. So you walk to the shop, buy what you need, then go back the same way without venturing into the other half of the village. And no doubt people living in the other direction do the same, and so they don’t get a chance to get to know one another. It was at a recent communal picnic that my mum met a lady who had lived on the other side of the village for a number of years, and yet they hadn’t met until that day. So we need to encourage things like Cake and a Cuppa, as they really do help tackle the problem of loneliness and isolation.
One of the things that struck me as I listened today was the comment made by one young man, who said something along the lines of: “You don’t need to be old to feel lonely,” which I thought was a valid point to make. Indeed, when I went along to my village coffee morning, although most were elderly, there was also a young family with two very small children enjoying the chats and the cake.
What I also noticed was the amount of energy the youngsters injected into the room. They naturally lifted everyone’s spirits in a way that children can effortlessly do (admittedly, they can have the opposite effect on some people, but not on this occasion!).
It’s nothing that we don’t already know, of course, and events like Cake and A Cuppa prove it all the more. So let’s build on what’s been started and bring more people together over a cup of tea and a slice of cake.
Listen to my 9th August interview on the BBC Radio York Adam Tomlinson and Anna Wallace show: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01yq8ky
Visit me at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug.