IRISH organisations across the north west of England have come together to launch a dedicated coronavirus response service for the most vulnerable members of the community.
The Cara – Irish Communities Together Through Covid-19 Programme will offer assistance with practical tasks and emotional support for Irish people who are in need while in isolation as the country battles the pandemic.
Breege McDaid is the Director of the Irish Community Care organisation, one of the founding members of the project.
She told The Irish Post: “The idea behind Cara is is that we are coming together as a collective group of Irish community organisations and groups in the north west to support our community through Covid-19 with very practical tasks and emotional support while people are isolated and on lockdown.”
She explained: “That’s largely directed at people who can’t get out to the shops, older people and those in poor health and those people who are disconnected and far from family and friends.”
There are more than ten organisations signed up for the initiative, including Irish Community Care, Comhaltas, GAA clubs, the Liverpool Irish Centre and the Institute of Irish Studies, all committing to do their bit to ensure the most at risk members of their community are supported amid the ongoing health crisis.
Having launched the new service on April 17, Cara is now building a database of volunteers and also working to find the people who need them most.
“What we have done is set up a request for people to volunteer, so we are building a database of volunteers,” Ms McDaid explains, “and on the other side we are asking people ‘do you know somebody in our community who might ned a wee bit of support, or do you yourself need a bit of support?’, and our job then in the background is to marry the two so that we have somebody who can offer to help and do a very practical task for them, obviously while complying with all the guidelines around social distancing and keeping safe.
“So, its early days, but we are optimistic.”
And the services they will be providing will range from doing shopping and collecting prescriptions to befriending services.
“The tasks we are talking about are simple, practical tasks, like doing a shop,” Ms McDaid explains.
“We are not asking people to go specifically to the shops, but if you are going shopping would you like to be a Cara buddy and pick up somebody else’s shopping also and drop it off at their accommodation?
“Obviously, we are not expecting people to pay for the shopping or handle cash, we have a system in place to sort payment. So, it’s simple things like picking up shopping, or picking up prescriptions.”
She added: “We know there are lots of these services available out there, but we think it’s good for us to have that community connection and offer that cultural understanding and awareness.
“The other part of the service that is really important is the befriending on the phone, for people who are on their own and might not have anybody to speak to, and who may well be thinking ‘Christ I could dIe alone here and nobody would know’, that kind of thought.
“We will have a regular group of people who can make these calls and have a bit of craic and a chat, but also to pick up on is this person ok, is there anything else we can support with and just help with all that emotional wellbeing throughout the whole isolation process.”
For Ms McDaid, whose role at Irish Community Care sees her regularly dealing with some of the most vulnerable people among the Irish community in the north west, keeping contact with them now, amidst this pandemic, is vital.
“We absolutely don’t want anyone to be negatively affected by isolation, so Cara is all about keeping the conversation going, keeping these people stimulated and keeping that connection - which is very important outside of lockdown but even more important now,” she admits.
They also hope the new service may bring some new skills to some of their older service users.
“One of the other things we are really aware of - and I think we all take for granted - is that we all assume that everyone is online, that everybody is digitally included,” Ms McDaid says.
“Well, do you know what, there are so many people who are not, and that’s the reality. “There is a lot of information coming out online but if you have a phone and you don’t know the potential of that phone other than to make a call, which is very important – but there so much else that that phone can do, then that’s no good to you.
“So, one of the things we are looking at, is do you or someone you know need a bit of help to get online – do you need help using your phone to do facetime, or to purchase something online. We want to help people to be more digitally included, so we are looking at that and what people might need support with.”
Supporting the Irish community is something close to the heart of Ms McDaid and all of the organisations that have signed up to the initiative.
And at a time when the coronavirus outbreak sees the community at large at risk, Ms McDaid claims offering a service like Cara simply feels like their duty.
“I think this is a really important thing for us to do,” she admits.
“At the end of the day our community will very often be the people who are forgotten, our community will very often be the people who, because of pride, history, culture, survival, will be the ones who will not ask for help, who will put themselves at risk.
“So, I think this service, coming from us as community organisations is very, very important.
“I think it’s to the credit of Irish community organisations globally that we are continuing to do that – we are doing the day job and we are taking on new work as well.
“Because staff are continuing to do the job they do, albeit remotely - but the issues are still there, but this is a new piece of work we are developing.
“I think its crucially important and actually the support of the community groups and the volunteers we have had so far is great – people really want to help, so we want to harness all that good energy.”
Cara – how you can get involved
If you would like to volunteer for the Cara service click here, or you know someone who is isolated or likely to need more support over the coming months click here, alternatively you can call 0151 237 3987 for more information.
Cara partners – the organisations signed up to the initiative
Brian Boru Club
John Mitchels GAA
Wolf Tones GAA
Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool
Irish Community Care
Irish Community Care Manchester
Liverpool Irish Centre
Liverpool Irish Festival
John Mitchels GAA Club is among the organisations signed up to the Cara programme.
The club’s Shona McGonigle told The Irish Post why she felt it was important to support the initiative…
"ON behalf of the John Mitchels GAA club, myself and Paddy Murphy, from the men’s team, jumped at the chance of getting involved with Cara and to help support the Irish Community Care team.
Paddy and myself have lived in Liverpool for numerous years now and like to offer support within the community here.
Cara gives us a great opportunity to help people, especially the most vulnerable people, during these challenging times.
I currently play for John Mitchels ladies’ team and I am the Public Relations Officer for the ladies team too, so I was happy to support the initiative by promoting the Cara project and getting involved on behalf of our club.
For me it is important to support people who are vulnerable, even if it’s the smallest of gestures – a simple phone call or help with some shopping.
This will hopefully relieve some of their stresses over this period of time.
The smallest of things can mean a lot to people and its’ important that the Irish living in the UK are able to support and continue to connect with one another at this time – which can be a very stressful, scary or lonely time for them, along with difficulties of them being unable to access the community.
Currently we have quite a few of our ladies’ team supporting the initiative, along with our men’s team.
Also, there are other members within our club involved who don't play including coaches and previous players."