THE pandemic has taken a toll on the country’s mental health, but a community group is combatting this issue with a new project.

The Crafty Hubbers, a group of knitters in Thornton le Dale, has raised more than £2,000 for mental health in the local area through the Buddy Bear Appeal.

The Buddy Bear Appeal is similar to a chain letter, with the idea of knitting three bears to pass onto a friend, family member, neighbour or someone who is struggling.

Thornton le Dale businesses – including Balderson’s Welcome Café, Clothes for Comfort and Hip and Square – have offered to sell the knitted bears.

The knitting group has split the donations between Next Steps Mental Health Resource Centre, in Norton, and a buddy bench for The Hall Care Home, in Thornton le Dale.

The idea of the buddy bench came from Denise Rajab who was inspired by a project in Kuwait, her husband's home county, which was invaded by Iraq between 1990 and 1991.

The benches were placed around school yard to encourage children to talk about their experiences and how they were feeling.

“The buddy benches were a lifeline to us in Kuwait after the invasion between 1990 and 1991," said Denise.

“It was a problem shared and a fantastic lifeline for students who were clearly suffering from their own mental health.

"With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea if we could have a couple in our own village.

"The buddy benches’ have become symbols of hope and light-heartedness, designed to encourage community and feelings of openness, both important for mental wellbeing."

The bench has been placed in one of The Hall’s gardens, for residents, their families and members of the community to take some time out, have a chat and to watch the world go by.

Monica Hindley, a resident at The Hall Care Home, said: “The buddy bench is a lovely idea and I am excited to sit and chat on it while enjoying the wildlife.”

Nicky Beach, care manager at The Hall Care Home, added: “The buddy bench is a great idea; it will be a lovely area for our residents to sit and talk with their families, and for members of the community to visit, when it is safe for them to do so.

“I would like to thank the Crafty Hubbers for all of the hard work that they have put in to raise money for our bench and for Next Steps Mental Health Resource Centre.”