The Irish Cultural Centre Hammersmith's Response to COVID-19
News13 August 2020
By Peter Power-Hynes, Cathaoirleach of ICC Hammersmith
When we closed our doors on 16th March, having cancelled our St Patrick’s Celebrations following the guidance of both the Irish and UK Governments, we could not have predicted how the next few months would unfold. As it stands, Covid-19 has forced us to postpone 4-6 months of events that would have formed our most exciting programme to date.
It is now late July and the way we showcase the best of Irish Culture has radically altered. By adopting advances in technology, we launched ICC Digital – an online channel showcasing the best of Irish Culture - allowing us to reach an audience around the world. We continued our education programme online via Zoom and we offered exciting new classes. We also established our Culture Hotline, a UK-wide free phone-in service for those who did not have access to modern technology, enabling them to engage and enjoy weekly concerts and storytelling.
We embarked on these two new ventures, ICC Digital and the Culture Hotline, because we were determined to continue providing both entertainment and support through Lockdown to the London community which we had served so well for 25 years. In the end we made a virtue out of necessity; we knew by embracing modern technology we had an opportunity not only to serve but also expand our audience well beyond the capacity of our Centre. Having explored various possibilities, the creation of ICC Digital presented itself as the most effective option for showcasing the best of Irish culture and arts through social media, YouTube, and our website. Through all of these we are currently engaging with over 35,000 global viewers weekly.
However, we were also conscious that a significant number of our elderly and vulnerable patrons either did not have access to modern technology or did not feel confident enough using it. We were very keen to address their needs too, so we hit upon the idea of a Culture Hotline. We applied for and obtained the appropriate licences, purchased the necessary equipment and very soon we were using Microsoft Teams, enabling users simply to ‘freephone’ into events. This also provided our patrons the opportunity to chat to their friends which we have been told has helped enormously in offsetting the isolation and inactivity of Lockdown.
These new ventures would not have been possible without funding from the Irish Embassy and Culture Ireland and we are very grateful for this support, without which neither ICC Digital nor the Culture Hotline would have been possible.
Moreover, we are delighted with the responses we have received from our viewers, listeners and performers, a selection of which follows:
ICC Digital audience member
"ICC Digital has been a lifeline during lockdown. As well as providing a line of communication it has also continued language classes via Zoom, Q & A sessions with film directors & aired performances & films. The quality & quantity of material has been a real credit to all involved in managing ICC Digital. I hope it continues after lockdown finishes."
"The Irish Cultural Centre (ICC) has become a large part of my life since I discovered it some years ago and has become an anchor in the constantly changing city that is London. By strengthening our own cultural identity through education and exposure to the best of Irish culture it enables us to interact with other cultures with ease. The ICC has not rested on its laurels and its launch into the digital world as a result of Covid-19 has shown how adaptable it is. It has been a lifeline to many, not just the Irish Diaspora but also a new generation of people who call London home but have distant and not so distant links to Ireland. Those of us who are getting on in years find the digital world a step into the unknown, but ICC has held our hand along the way. The digital content has entertained and educated us while we stayed in our homes isolated from the world around us and helped us to retain our sanity. It has got us through the despondency of isolation and shown us that we can evolve to cope with whatever life throws at us. Thank you ICC."
Seána Davey, harpist and performer (based in County Meath)
"I was delighted to be asked to participate in the Culture Hotline series. I shared it with my students, people I work with and people I’ve known since childhood and heard wonderfully positive feedback. I am keenly aware of the modern age sometimes leaving behind those of us who are not tech savvy and so I particularly liked the element of being a phone call away for people. What I also learned was that many professionals - working from home of course, dialled in and commented on how they enjoyed so much listening whilst working. They said it felt so personal even though some of them chose to remain silent and listen. It was really lovely to hear people greet one another at the beginning of calls and especially when some people had requests for songs. A hugely positive experience overall and very worthy cause for all ages."
Culture Hotline Attendee
"For the past two months I have been dialling in to listen and engage with the Culture Hotline organised by the ICC. As someone who is visually impaired – it offered a great way for me to enjoy live performance not based not visual engagement, and from a social aspect I was able to learn and connect with new people and support networks in the UK."
These new services would not have been possible without the dedicated work of our great team led by Ros Scanlon, our Cultural Director, supported by William Foote, Carrie Foulkes, Sé Merry Doyle and Gerry Logue in particular.
As we now enter our celebratory 25th year of operation, we look to the future. We will strive to expand our digital cultural output to allow more patrons in the UK and around the world to discover and enjoy the best of Irish Culture. It may be some time before we return to normal operations but, with the support of our team and our volunteers, we will continue to provide a ‘Home for Irish Culture‘ in the years to come.