‘Our members are at risk' Irish charity moves online to support most vulnerable
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‘Our members are at risk' Irish charity moves online to support most vulnerable

A RAFT of new measures have quickly been implemented by the staff and volunteers at the Luton Irish Forum (LIF) following the outbreak of Covid-19 in this country.

While all groups, clubs and regular activities have been cancelled for the foreseeable, the most vital of the organisation’s services have now moved online and to the telephones as the fight against the deadly disease continues.

Noelette Hanley, Chief Officer at LIF, confirms that her team had to make swift changes to the services they offer when the virus hit Britain.

“We have adapted and continue to do so,” she told The Irish Post.

“Most of our members and volunteers are in the high-risk category,” she explained, “which means they could become seriously ill from coronavirus.

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“Therefore, we quickly closed all our groups and moved our welfare service to telephone advice.”

She added: “The members were quickly alerted and have been responsive to and positive about the changes in our services.

“Our staff and volunteers are keeping in regular contact; making sure their basic needs are met, staying in touch, keeping well and most importantly staying at home.”

Among the adapted services that continue to be offered through the charity - which was set up in 1997 to safeguard the needs of Irish residents in Luton – are its welfare services, which currently can include anything from help with filling out forms to reassuring anxious members about how they access the necessities while in lockdown.

“The welfare team are conducting telephone interviews for advice and form-filling and using email for those who have access,” Ms Hanlon explains.

“We are providing as much advice as possible by telephone.  We are completing online forms by telephone and taking details for work capability assessment forms and PIP forms by telephone, completing on downloaded forms at LIF and posting to clients to sign and post on.”

She added: “When we are talking to people, we are doing a general welfare check to gauge how they are coping and taking action if we think they might need a follow up such a scheduling as follow up call or referring to the newly formed Covid-19 Luton Community Action Group.

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“We are also providing reassurance about access to groceries and toilet roll, explaining that lockdown does not mean they will not be able to access food or medication and suggesting resources that might help people, such as looking online for activities to help with anxiety, as there is a lot out there.”

LIF has also moved its befriending service to the telephone, while encouraging their members - of which there is more than 500 – to keep in contact with one another, as well as their friends and families to avoid the loneliness that isolation can bring.

“All volunteers and members have been asked to phone other members who may be lonely or on their own and they know personally on a regular basis as friends, not LIF befrienders, and to stay in touch with several different people, meaning they have more than one person they rely on,” Ms Hanley confirms.

“Our Befriender service has moved to telephones too, which is a monitored service.”

She added: “We are encouraging members to stay in contact with each other, to ask their family for help, and to see if they need anything from us.

“And we are helping members with shopping and dropping off supplies, where needed.”

There are also a few new initiatives being offered through the LIF network, which have been created by its existing groups in response to the Covid-19 lockdown.

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For example, the LIF’s Art Group now holds a weekly ‘paint-along’ art session online, which is open to all members.

The charity has also launched an Intergenerational Pen Pal Project, helping older people who are not online to stay connected and feel less isolated, and produced and published a special edition of its bi-monthly newsletter which includes an update on services and tips for keeping your mind and body healthy during the coronavirus pandemic.

For further information on LIF’s services click here.