By David Hennessy
Irish community organisations all over Britain are finding new ways to help the community members most in need of help. With an army of volunteers, they are helping elderly people who are most at risk from Covid-19 so that they don’t need to go out and risk infection.
People can avail of helplines, help with shopping or getting prescriptions picked up while the coronavirus pandemic stops them from being as independent as normal.
Leeds Irish Health and Homes have been working with the Irish community there to provide a dedicated telephone number for people to call and with the help of volunteers and other organisations, they are helping people with whatever they need.
Rachael Loftus, Chair of Leeds Irish Health and Homes, told The Irish World: “WIth Leeds Irish Health and Homes, we have have a great deal of experience of dealing sensitively with people and their needs and working with them. We’re not able to operate in the way we normally would, a lot of what we do is about bringing groups together. Our staff are doing an amazing job at doing more one-to-one work.
“We said, ‘What more could we be doing?’ We’re very conscious that the Irish community is that bit older and also a generation that aren’t used to asking for help so we know if we can have an Irish connection to that, they’re more likely to take the help.
“And Hugh O’Neill’s GAA Club got involved and they have a lot of young professional people who were saying, ‘What could we do, how can we help out?’
“Gradually it got to be a bigger conversation and now we’ve got all of the Irish community associations and groups on board and saying that they willl reach out to their members for people who can volunteer.
“Now we know we have the capacity so we know we can reach out and help out particulary those members of our community not online who might not be able to access the help and support that is out there.
“It means we can add to the efforts that the city is doing to make sure we’ve got people who will pick up and drop off shopping but also we know it’s the stress that is harder to cope with.
“That might be people who are living alone and are used to going out socialising. It also might mean people who are living with their families and are finding it really really hard to cope with that intense connection as everybody in the same house tries to work from home and look after children.
“Having somebody on the end of the phone who is just willing to be a listening ear is just as important and certainly we know over the coming months that stress will manifest itself in different ways.
“Now we’ve got other groups like the football team who can’t do what they would normally do, the fact that they’ve got the time to deliver food or be on the end of the phone.
“Individuals from the Irish community have been getting in touch and saying things like, ‘I’m a brickie normally but i can do any odd jobs, if someboyd needs anything’.
“It’s about unlocking the power of community.
“We’ll help anyone out.”
The Irish Elderly Advice Network in London have been making similar efforts. They have launched a ‘Staying at Home, but Not Alone’ campaign with a phone line available 7 days a week, 10am – 8pm on 0207 428 0471. With the help of volunteers, they can help get shopping or prescriptions for people who can’t get out.
Nora Mulready, Head of Culture, Irish Elderly Advice Network, told The Irish World: “We’ve got a team of volunteers who are just amazing and have come out of the woodwork from the Irish community.
“We’ve set up this helpline. It’s open from 10am until 8pm seven days a week.
“We’ve got loads of people doing the phone calls including lots of older people themselves who are stuck at home and delighted to be doing something that is useful.
“We started preparing all of this two weeks ago. We cancelled all face-to-face and went completely online because the people we work with are so high risk.
“When people do need shopping or do need a prescription, we’ve got people in those boroughs and it’s growing all the time. When a need emerges, we get the volunteers.
“We did a delivery in Harrow the other day and we put a call out on facebook to the Irish community, ‘Can anyone help in Harrow?’ Within about five minutes, we had about four volunteers. The one who ended up doing it came to us from one of the Irish music schools. It was connected to that network. What’s happening from what we’re seeing is the Irish community is really joining up in so many different ways.
“We have to be careful. We can’t give out an address to a total stranger which is why the Irish community networks are so important right now: I might not know this person but I know the Irish music teacher who does know this person who is delivering. I can have that confidence that this is a safe person.
“We’re an older Irish charity but actually we’re getting help from the whole community. For example this morning we got contacted by Feith an Cheoil and their group wants to help so they’re now getting involved making phone calls.
“Now the government has launched its coronavirus delivery service for extremely vulnerable people what we’re also able to do is register people for that. That’s part of the phone calls that we’re doing, making note of who would be eligible for that and registering them for that to make sure that as many older Irish people as possible are not falling through the gaps.
“We’re bridging the gap between now and when the government’s help kicks in.”
Many other organisations are making similar efforts.
BIAS (Brent Irish Advisory Service) will be reaching out to vulnerable members of the Irish Comunity who may benefit from telephone contact or help with some food donations and other possible assistance. You can call BIAS on 0208 459 6655.
Luton Irish Forum have also had to adjust the way they do things. Their building will be closed until further notice but you can call reception via 01582 720447 or email email@example.com. Welfare services will be by telephone, social groups and activities are closed until further notice, befrienders will be by telephone service only, passport witnessing will be closed until further notice and trips are postponed until further notice.
In Liverpool, Irish Community Care are working closely with the Liverpool Irish Centre to ensure that people who are isolated at home receive food and other essentials, and are continuing to deliver their services by phone, email and social media.
Birmingham Irish Association are keeping a phone service going, delivering food to those in need and continuing its support of the Irish community in the area.