A charity aimed at thousands of elderly Irish people in and around London has put forward a proposal to establish a welfare and cultural bureau in the Irish Centre in Camden ‘to say thank you to the generation that built it’.
The Centre, which is celebrating 60 years, was built and financed by the huge wave of 1950s emigrants and those who came after them.
‘They dug into their own pockets and dug in with shovels,’ says Nora Mulready of the London-based Irish Elders Network which has some 2,000 service users.
Ms. Mulready has approached the LIC with a proposal to house the National Centre for Older Irish People in Britain in a suite of offices and function room – the Kennedy Hall – that is being vacated by a Spanish government-funded community group.
Her Irish Elders’ network has operated out of the LIC for 15 of its 20 years and has in the last year, through its welfare operations obtained £1.2 million worth of pensions, benefits or allowances to which its clients were entitled but did not know how to access. It averages about £1m a year.
‘We find a lot of our clients and their families think they have been left behind and they have complained to us that places like the Irish Centre are not as welcoming to them as they once were.
‘We have approached the Centre with an offer to go into partnership with it so we can give the benefit of our expertise and experience at a venue that is so appropriate for a National Centre for Older Irish People.
‘Aside from offering welfare advice and services we would also seek to ensure that their cultural welfare is looked after with culturally-appropriate and culturally-sensitive plays, readings, concerts, recitals and much more,’ she said.
‘In essence, we think this is and should be almost a battle for the soul of the Irish Centre and a once in a lifetime opportunity to say thank you to the generations that built it,’ she said.
The Centre has received £4m in Irish government funding in the last decade and around half a million pounds last year alone under the Emigrants’ Support Programme. Ms. Mulready’s Irish Elders’ Network also receives Irish government funding.
Ms. Mulready has enlisted the support of many of the centre’s older users but also the daughters of Billy Power, one of the Birmingham Six, who said the Centre played a vital role in their campaign for their release in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Tom Wheeler said: ‘As someone who worked in the Kennedy Hall and saw it in full swing back in the early 80s it would be such a shame to see it disappear again from the Irish. The Irish Elderly Advice Network has done so much for older Irish people over the years and should be given the chance to do their work in the Kennedy. The older Irish need a place to get advice and to meet and this would be perfect.’
Mollie Ormonde, 88, said: ‘We would love to go back to meeting friends at the Irish Centre. It’s part of our history and people remember the days when it gave such a great welcome to older Irish people. We would love it to go back to this and the idea of a National Centre for Older Irish People is just great and has my full support.’
Breda Power and Lizzie Power, daughters of Billy Power of the Birmingham Six said: ‘The Irish Centre is an important Centre for people and has a great history and tradition of supporting vulnerable people and for its historic support for men and women like our father who was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years. The Birmingham Six campaign held its nmeetings here for nearly ten years. It was a significant period in the history of the Irish Centre. During the last five decades thousands of Irish people, now in their advanced years, helped to raise money or to build the great halls that the centre has today. The Centre was built by a generation of Irish people who are now older and the best way to recognise their historic contribution to the building of the centre is to support the request to relocate the Irish Elderly Advice Network to the Kennedy Hall.’
If you would like to support our proposal to found the National Centre for Older Irish people, here’s how:Ms. Mulready, and her mother Cllr Sally Mulready urged supporters of their campaign to contact the Chief Executive of the London Irish Centre, David Barlow, and the Director of Arts, Gary Dunne, and ask them to consider our proposal by letter to the London Irish Centre, 50-52 Camden Square, London, NW1 9XB or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, Twitter @LDNIrishCentre or to contact the Trustees of the London Irish Centre by post to the above address or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Trustees are Sean Kennedy (Chair), (email email@example.com), Dermot Murphy, Maeve Buckley, Ian McKim, David Perkins, Evan Long, Jarleth Burke or to send letters or emails of support to the Irish Elderly Advice Network, London Irish Centre, 50-52 Camden Square, London, NW1 9XB – firstname.lastname@example.org
CEO of The Irish Centre, Camden David Barlow has told The Irish World that the centre will consider proposals for the Kennedy Hall nearer to October, when it has been vacated.