A community comes together – stories from the frontline in Great Britain

3rd September, 2020 : Great Britain

IFGB is proud to share the essential work our supported organisations provided and continue to provide to the Irish community as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it. Despite their services being greatly affected and fundraising opportunities drastically cut, these amazing organisations continued to work on the frontline, providing care and support to those most vulnerable. Below we have outlined just some of the valuable services our supported organisations are providing.

Irish Chaplaincy
Irish Chaplaincy provides support to excluded, vulnerable and isolated Irish people in Britain, such as seniors, Irish Travellers and prisoners.  As it is the only charity supporting Irish prisoners across the whole of England and Wales, it has been on the frontline during the COVID-19 crisis.

With no visiting hours allowed in prisons, all forms of income from working within prisons stopped and most prisons operating with skeleton staff, Irish Chaplaincy’s support is greatly needed. Alongside receiving and responding to post and email with hundreds of prisoners across England and Wales, Irish Chaplaincy has distributed cell resources such as books, CDs, puzzles to 120 prisons with Irish prisoners. Additionally, the charity launched a Seniors project for dropping off food parcels and newspapers to their vulnerable clients and hosted a virtual retreat on Zoom. It is also trialling a new project, entitled ‘Keeping Connected’, that distributes tablets to the elderly.

Southwark Irish Pensioners Project
Since lockdown, Southwark Irish Pensioners Project (SIPP) has kept in touch with over 400 older people living in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham with weekly phone calls, posting out regular newsletters and delivering emergency supplies of groceries, medicines, cooked meals and activity parcels. The staff also provide a seven day service collecting phone messages, offering advice, support and information over the phone and on the doorstep (socially distanced visits). The staff have even moved two clients into sheltered housing in the midst of the pandemic!

Initially, SIPP cooked hundreds of meals in their local community kitchen in Bermondsey. Soon after, leading chef Angela Hartnett and her team supplied SIPP with delicious meals over several months (which you can see on RTÉ News here). SIPP have expressed their gratitude for having “a wonderful team of volunteers, both long term and recent recruits who are giving their time to help us to keep our community connected by regular phone calls.”  Some volunteers are also personal shoppers for pensioners who are shielding and have no family support. The majority of their pensioners do not use the internet so the phone and post are very important in their lives – for social contact, information, entertainment and to reduce isolation. SIPP continue to post out regular newsletters which have included short stories including some from members, latest news, exercises and general chit chat. SIPP are currently advertising for a digital champion who they hope will encourage some of their pensioners to get online.

Anam Cara Parental & Sibling Bereavement Support
Anam Cara has been proactive in adjusting how they provide their essential services in the pandemic by setting up of private Facebook groups, producing videos for their website for recently bereaved parents and creating of online groups on Zoom. Parents have really benefited from their online Group Support Meetings, introduced in May, with one parent expressing that they were “So delighted to have logged on…. I had not realised how much I had missed the support from this group. I felt something had been lifted off my shoulders and came away feeling so much better than before I had gone on. Thank you Anam Cara, it was fantastic”. These meetings online will continue, along side face-to-face support groups which return in September.

Leeds Irish Communities
Concerned for members in the community who would find themselves isolated or in need of food or medication during the pandemic, Leeds Irish organisations came together to provide new services, including befriending phone calls and shopping and medication collections.  Under the banner, ‘We are many groups, but we are One community’ the initiative brings together Leeds Irish Health & Homes (LIHH), Hugh O’Neill’s Leeds GAA, JFK GAA, Leeds St Benedict’s Harps GAA, The Irish Arts Foundation, Leeds Irish Centre, Leeds Irish Golf Society, Helen Rowland Academy of Irish Dancing, Watson McCleave Academy of Irish Dancing, The Leeds St Patrick’s Day Parade, The Joyce-O’Donnell School of Irish Dancing, The Leeds Mayo Association, and Leeds Irish Ladies’ Golf Society as well as interested individuals.

Led by LIHH, over 100 volunteers were recruited and more than 300 referrals came through either via the phone lines or through internal networks. These were matched with volunteers and identified to receive a ‘Craic Pack’ which was designed to give people a ‘taste of Ireland’ with Irish goods, papers, quizzes to let people know they were not alone and how to keep in touch.  Three sets of packs were delivered between May and June reaching over 230 individuals. The response was overwhelming and many of the volunteers commented on how shocked they were at the levels of loneliness and isolation they were seeing in the people they were delivering to.

A community newsletter was printed and distributed to over 1000 people with news, tips for staying well, and well wishes from all the Irish Community groups involved, which received very positive feedback. LIHH also engaged local schools and developed a pen pal exchange. The children drew rainbow pictures which were delivered when staff and volunteers were out and about visiting people. Stamped-addressed postcards were sent out to people to engage them and start asking to think of people who might need a helping hand and send a postcard onto them.