Whitby Community’s Compassion project

This is a new blog to bring together information gathered on Frome’s Compassion Project of the past 6 years. We are now embarking on Whitby District’s own project.

Who is the “we”?  That’s a question that is not simply answered other than to say “the Whitby District Community”. Clearly there is a shove from a core of interests whose interests are to put residents/citizens individually into the driving seat.

Does it sound a bit like the local response to Covid-19 there has been? It should do, but it predates the epidemic and there is no restriction of scope. 

This blog is “sticky”. It sticks to the beginning of the set of blogs on the home page of the web site. It’s aim is to develop the WCCP (Whitby Community’s Compassion Project) as transparently as possible. By its nature, it is a shared project, not one owned by a handful of organisations or people. It will be steered by some individuals in organisations in trustee-like roles – having the best interests of the project, community and transparency in the forefront and organisational interests set aside as much as possible. Trust is key.

The “Heart and Hands” illustration below is a little too complicated and fussy to be “the logo” for the project. However, it represents the feel (the ethos) of what is really a journey or indeed journeys. It will not be a rigid action. In different ways by different people but to a common focus and hopefully similar outcomes. Our Sheds are each different because the people inside are. 

The outcome is Compassion. A word that is increasingly common in social action. A word that is already in action on numerous occasions everywhere as a neighbour helps a neighbour. So this journey builds on that. The Whitby Gazette and NYCC have been featuring “Salt of the Earth” people each week and so we can read of people’s exploits without probably ever meeting them. We can be encouraged, maybe, in our responses to other people’s needs (even to borrow a cup of sugar!).

The strap line below says Community is Connected Individuals.  The Heart & Hands artwork (!) message sums it all up. It is people who make community, Councils, Agencies and Organisations can only assist but cannot “make community”. In assisting they do a very good job. They try to identify gaps but at the end of the day it is the local communities that hold the key to Whitby district being a good place to live – despite personal circumstances that we have.

The main need is to belong, but not everybody finds that easy for a boatload of reasons. Can the community, our community, help in that? Recognising that in this day and age it is not just “place” that defines our community links but work, school, clubs, surgeries – and indeed Allotments, Sheds, walking groups, care homes, home visitors and more . . . .

Under the left hand magnifying glass are those community links. On the right is family – one representation of. It could equally be two nonagenarians! It’s the building block of society really, though it can be any stable relationships. Looking after each other at the atomic level.

Into the community heart come “unconnected” people. Those in grey. They may be newcomers, bereaved, housebound, unemployed, having sudden or long-term serious health concerns, relationship breakdowns and sometimes combinations. They need to find ways into (or back into) the local community. 

Maybe it sounds simple! It is not and the effort needs to be shared across the community and up and down the formal community structures.

That is the stall set out IN DRAFT and now to some mechanics drawing on the experience of Frome in Somerset and it’s very successful journey into broad compassion.

The fact of Frome had been shared in various group/network meetings during 2019..

Last November Graham made a 3 day visit to Frome.  A trip to see evidence for himself and to share it with others. He shared it with Shedders in the following post:

From Frome (pronounced Frume!)

Next, something very welcome indeed but unexpected happened as Covid-19 was taking hold. Three organisations galvanised by Yvonne Harrison of WHISH (Whitby Hidden Impairment Support and Help) proposed that voluntary groups might work together more closely at the strategy level. The thought took hold and despite coronavirus (or even helped by it in terms of Zoom!) the Whitby Community Alliance was established with around 14 volunteer dependent organisations involved, including Whitby District Sheds.

That foundation countered the affect of lockdown on proposing a Compassion Project for Whitby district (note, district!).

A book on the Frome story was published in early summer and that filled in some very helpful background to what Graham had seen. It is called “The Compassion Project – A case for hope & humankindness from the town that beat loneliness”.

This led to putting finger to keyboard to describe a Whitby assessment of possibilities. Again, on this web-site.

Looking Forward, Continuing to help people

One key professional expressed support for the Project saying “it was fascinating and such a simple idea but hugely effective”.

The comment was made after reading The Compassion Project.



The Pyramid

Some early discussions on the Compassion Project for Whitby led to the need to demonstrate clearly that the Compassion project did not replace or compete with existing projects. It also needed to be clearer where the work fell on the spectrum from individual citizens to councils, agencies and governments.

Thus, the Pyramid was created to show how the lego fitted together:-)

The grey band across the pyramid is the part of the Compassion Project we are focussed on.  There are 3 key elements:

  1. Community Connectors (people from the community) who act as channels to ordinary citizens.
  2. Talking Cafes that are simply places  where people can talk to one another at the everyday, about needs in a place or personal matters (particularly if some support or assistance is needed.
  3. The Directory. This is the schedule of activities and initiatives that are available at affordable cost to benefit people’s wellbeing in ways unique to them. Campanologists maybe (if that rings a bell).

The mass of the population are pretty well connected to families, schools (and school gates), clubs, churches, volunteering, shopping, caring etc. but there are those who slip through the net with little connection (see the pair of  black arrows in the centre of the picture. It is those that the Compassion project will seek to connect with and connect them to what they might benefit from. Doing it is ways that support and encourage and reasonably tim

The Whitby Way

In Frome, most of the activities and the Talking Cafes were in Frome Town. In different locations but within the bounds of the town. We intend that Whitby Compassion project will not be solely based on Whitby Town but work in the pockets of population across Whitby district where people live/work/learn.

The natural features of our area divide our region into strip settlements (i.e. long and thin). This map illustrates.

The project is therefore for the whole community – but decentralised with convenient local access with accessibility to Whitby town if preferred. 

However, actions needs to start somewhere and the project will begin with two vanguard projects in different places with different features. They are being planned to be in Sleights and Lythe/Sandsend. Whitby Town itself will likely next following with a 3 month delay. Other areas will follow as and when places are volunteered or proposed. Organic development that learns from accumulating experience of what and what doesn’t work. If you have suggestions for places where there could be early adopters (i.e. several interests to work together) then please register early interest. Like Frome in fact, this is not a military exercise to “do to people” but one for people to come forward for.

Coast & Vale Community Action’s Totally Socially movement (the incubator helping new local projects framed by local people) is precisely this bottom up way. If  a conversation in a Talking Cafe with locals (and of course others who choose to visit for a cuppa and cake) turns up an idea to help cut isolation, say, or fill a missing gap, then Totally Socially would be the kind of organisation who would advise and nurture something – but not run it. Likewise, the Whitby District Sheds would help anyone thinking of a Shed-like project). Whitby DAG is a port of call always on social inclusion on particular but also sometimes more general issue. Existing organisations are in their own way Community Connectors willing to guide and it is part of the role of the voluntary role of the new Whitby Community Alliance. 

A plug here for Whitby Street Angels (the weekend nighttime presence in normal times). Street Angels do a role in a way that fits well with this model of connecting. They work a lot with visitors, of course. Those delivering food in this Covid-19 period also did Connecting. That’s how Staithes Shed ended up cutting grass fortnightly to help someone passed on by Revival North Yorkshire. Likewise we did a favour for Lythe Farmers’ Breakfast. And others too that illustrate we are not at ground Zero with the Project but simply (!) adding in the potential of local communities who know their place (the location that is!).

How does Community Connecting (individual people) work?

In Frome there are now around 1500 Community Connectors. Population about 20 000. 

The success of the Whitby Compassion project (defining that will be addressed later) will depend heavily on community volunteers in the roles of trained Community Connectors.  Connectors go about their ordinary (or extraordinary) day to day activities but may come across an individual with a need of some sort. It may be a quick matter to solve on the spot or it may be one requiring referral to a “professional”.  Whatever, the Connector adopts the role of sign poster to appropriate help – the signpost may point to themselves if the “cap fits”! Otherwise moving matters forward in a way agreed by the person towards a solution.

Did they aim for 1500 Community Connectors? No. It began very organically and with Health Connectors like our GP Link Workers. Guess what. No targets!! But there were measurable outcomes in Frome that will be addressed later in this blog or you may have read some of it in “the Book” or our earlier blogs referenced above.

Community Connectors need some training

Not a lot but enough to equip and to set some boundaries for everyone’s sake. In Frome the training normally involves a couple of hours together. In Covid-19 times it has taken the expected turn to online training. Here is one of the Frome ads for training on 6th August 2020. 

We have moved our usual FREE Community Connector training online through Zoom.

The more people there are out there that know what support is available, the more we can help each other as a community.

Community Connectors are members of the community who signpost and inform, friends, family, colleagues and neighbours about how to access support groups, services and information that might help improve their health and wellbeing.

If you would like to become a Community Connector, it is not about adding another job to your already busy day, but about using appropriate opportunities to inform people about the support that is out there.

“Having the extra knowledge when talking with people who need help and support will be so valuable.” Police Community Support Officer.

“This had been a very informative and helpful workshop. I never knew there was so much support out there!” Community member.

This session takes places over Zoom.

If you are having problems registering, please call Health Connections Mendip and we will register you: call 01        8 or email ms@nhs.net

Training for Whitby?

We’ve been quite strongly supported with information and know-how by Frome, and particularly by Patrick Abrahams of the Frome Men’s Shed. In early August we had two Zoom workshops with Patrick allowing about 15 or 16 Whitby people to learn more first hand. The Frome Shed was one of the early adopters and collaborators in the Frome Medical Centre led project and he is a Community Connector of course!

We will be receiving some training from Frome (under the umbrella of their healthcare) in September 2020. That is for us to understand what and how the training is done efficiently and effectively.  It will be for 6 or 7 people over Zoom (of course) and will give us their recommended framework of training for us to adopt or adapt.

Actual Whitby district Community Connector training will begin probably in early winter. Slowly and to meet the needs of the two vanguard projects in Sleights and Mulgrave.

The Directory

People (Connectors), Places (for example cafes) but what about information on what there is in localities that people may wish to access to combat any feelings of being cut off and lonely. Sheds is one example but, strange as it may seem, not everyone they might not suit everyone!

What is there that offers a simple welcome and some real engagement. Sheds do “creative distraction” but so can other things. We need a list to refer to. When, where, what, how much, who to contact. North Yorkshire County Council has facilitated the assembly of am online directory called Connect. That is being considered as the basis for the Directory. We’d welcome anyone who wants to help organisations maintain their information up to date and relevant).

In Frome, the Directory was compiled under the Medical Centre and the data stored is just what the doctor ordered for their use (on their desks) and for the Health Connectors (remember, like our 3 GP Link Workers!). But it is accessible to the community generally and therefore is an important tool for the Community Connector volunteers.

The Places to gather for no particular reason but every good reason

In Frome it is commercial cafes. Some quite large, others snug!. About 4 a week on different days and different times. The group that meets is not a “club” to which people necessarily belong long term but more a stabilising staging post into other activities. Anybody can go but there is always at least one experienced  Community Connector and/or a Health Connector to help anyone, in confidence if required.

Good company, stimulation, chat, serious discussion, ideas, good refreshments for an hour or two. Just drop in. 

In Lythe there is a Community Shop and there is or can be provision for people to meet once a week. In Sleights there is no cafe and we are looking at other possibilities for a “pop-up cafe”.

The Team or Teams

It is very place and people dependent and the mechanisms will need to be worked through with flexibility.  Organisation will be “flat” – probably along the lines of the Lythe Shop in fact or a Shed!  People cooperating and collaborating.

There will, we hope, be organisations that lend their encouragement, support and constructive oversight. This is building but in the case of Sleights the Surgery and Link Workers see the merit of a project like this. The Headteacher at Sleights Primary School wants to see the compassion and responsibility for others angle happening asap. It fits with the strategy of connection they envisage, and engagement with families.

Eskdale School is one of two Secondary Schools in Whitby with which Sheds have worked worked before  and they have a new strategy/ethos  called BRIDGE. It has a family and community focus.

At present the Project is not publicly promoted but it is not a state secret.  It is all a question of balance! The Whitby Gazette is ready for an introductory article in September.

Supporting the project (willing to do whatever they can) are NYCC Stronger Communities team  (particularly in Sleights) and the Mulgrave Benefice of the Church of England. Then there are partners in Whitby Community Alliance for whom the project has underlying relevance.

Is it too late to join in? Not in the least. At present “joining in” is more about understanding that burning the midnight oil. Don’t forget that this is really about individuals so if you are just that you are welcome to contact (at present graham_storer@btinternet.com.

Costs and Finance

The nature of the Whitby Compassion project is such that it will depend on many small contributions of people’s voluntary time. The cafes will cover their own cost. Training may incur costs depending on how it is done, but the gist of the project is that it is not an expensive one and savings to services should far outweigh it.

We should be able to undertake the two vanguard project start ups without too much expenditure but  it is envisaged there will need to be a Project Leader  recruited (like Jenny Hartnoll in the Book). 

Transparency and inclusion

There will be literature and a web-site dedicated to the Compassion Project. At this pre-launch stage this web site will carry news.  Would you like to help with publicity material and the web-site. It will require a small team of volunteers. We would welcome young people helping too. Plus our local print and radio media. Are you into making videos? We need you too.

The project would welcome support in any way from businesses in Whitby district. Of any size provided they have big hearts for employees and Whitby community. We have seen this in the Stronger Together during Covid-19 campaign that has featured large on Facebook.

It used to be said that some organisations were all “chiefs and no indians”. The Compassion project reverses that!


Is working together an outcome in itself? Yes. We are seeing it in Whitby and this project allows people as individuals to be a part of developing further an ethos of caring about others and indeed our place and environment.

Frome had a very interesting outcome in the reduced number of emergency ambulance trips to hospitals. Guess what? Helping people in small ways actually makes a difference. We can make a collective difference. 

Whitby’s economy is based to a great extent on tourism. Directly and indirectly. Could a Compassion Project make Whitby district a more notable place to visit? Frome is noted for it. 

A tricky project to start?

Yes, but why?

  1. Compassion through the lens of community is a difficult thing to easily define. For one person a crisis might be a leaking tap and for another the loss of a job. From a distance these seem very different but to the individual, particularly if they are feeling cut off, both mighissuest mean “panic”. Clearly a food bank largely meets food issues and a seniors lunch lack of contact with others and confidence. It is definable compassion. “Good neighbourliness” is so variable, random and largely unobserved. It is a culture or ethos. It cannot be organised. need must be presented somehow and then responded to. That is the sphere of the Compassion Project.
  2. To get any new work going  there is usually a core group of some description. But this project sees the general community providing the quiet engine to drive it. The way we are tackling that (as Frome did in their own way) is to find individuals across a wide range of existing people facing activities to act as mid-wives.  Acting initially on behalf of the community until the community begins to respond, lagely one-by-one. It is the way of our Sheds starting really, but on a wider canvass.
  3. Some of the people we need will be very busy already. but they know how to work together effectively to provide some consensus “wisdom”. There are also some very capable people not so busy but they don’t know what opportunities there are for them. These are gold because they bring capable freshness. Then there are those not obviously apparent as pioneer material but given trust and support they become some of the very best involved in projects. That does take time, discernment  and trust.
  4. Finally, human nature comes into it.We need to open up an opportunity for all to be a part of it but the task of taking large numbers forward at the beginning is an impossible one. Somebody or some organisations gets involved and another party says “why wasn’t I chosen?” The message  in this Compassion Project is that it is for the many and not the few. But those moving it from paper into practice need the space to learn and distill the good from the bad. The best the Compassion Project can do is to be as transparent as possible. so  all can know what is happening. A web-site, word of mouth and Whitby Gazette can be tools for this.

It is doable because Frome did it and it has lasted. Together we can.

PS If you can help as a person, an organisation, a business, an agency please make contact. Success is built on such contributions. When there are some public meetings, do attend (maybe on Zoom).



Your comments and ideas are most welcome BTW  graham_storer” to belong t@btinternet.com 

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