Leeds Irish Communities response to COVID-19
News24 April 2020
Children's drawings delivered to community members as part of the Leeds One Community initiative
We are many groups, but we are one community:
Leeds Irish Communities response to COVID-19
The Leeds Irish community response to the COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies the generosity of spirit which motivates so many Irish community organisations in Britain and beyond. It also illustrates the way in which Irish communities around the world have always come together at times like this to help those most in need.
Concerned for members in the community who would find themselves isolated or in need of food or medication, the 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 Centre, Leeds Irish Health & Homes, Hugh O’Neill’s Leeds GAA, JFK GAA, Leeds St Benedict’s Harps GAA, The Irish Arts Foundation, 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.
A programme has been developed for training and managing the many volunteers who have stepped forward.
Members of the Leeds One Community initiative also engaged with Irish Community Care in Merseyside to look at how the model could be replicated there. Their CARA initiative was launched on 20th April.
While the course of the Covid-19 pandemic is still uncertain, the spirit of community cohesion and the value of solidarity it represents will be a lasting and proud legacy for the Leeds Irish community and their organisations.
Our Embassy in London strongly supported this initiative and have promoted it as an example for other Irish communities in Britain to emulate. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also provided assistance.
Ant Hanlon, CEO of Leeds Irish Health & Homes describes the setting up of the Leeds One Community initiative:
On 15th March a local businessman, musician and Leeds Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Chair, Séan Gavaghan asked me whether a cross community response to the COVID-19 pandemic could be put together for those members of the Irish community who would find themselves vulnerable to isolation, food and medication deficits and a deterioration of their health. Séan was also in contact with Liam Thompson, Chair of Leeds Irish Centre.
Leeds Irish Health & Homes had also been contacted by Eoin Murray from Hugh O’Neill’s GAA to say that they had 20 players who were asking what they could do to help out in this unprecedented time.
It was decided to engage colleagues in other local Irish organisations via a WhatsApp group to start a discussion and gain support for getting involved. Video meetings followed and it was quickly recognised that the number of people and groups willing to engage was overwhelming.
We knew that many Irish people were proud and stoic and we also recognised that the community has a great history of reaching out to others in hard times. And this was going to be one hard time. We were worried that people might get overlooked having told everyone ‘they were grand’ when in reality they might be afraid about how they’d come through, or be feeling a bit lost because they weren’t working, having friends and family visiting or not getting the help they were used to.
Within 5 days we had made a video calling for people to come forward to register as volunteers and then sent a call out a week later making people aware that a dedicated phone line had been set up to take referrals for help. Initial options for support were befriending phone calls, shopping and medication collections and the option of door-step visiting.
We now have 100 people who have registered to be volunteers. Alongside Eoin Murray from Hugh O’Neill’s GAA who designed and implemented the volunteer and referral sign-up forms, Leeds Irish Health and Homes is leading on volunteer induction, training and management and the client referral processes.
So far, we have had 91 referrals and these are being matched with volunteers and identified to receive the first of our ‘craic packs’ where we will give Irish goods, papers and quizzes out to let people know we are thinking of them and how to keep in touch with us. This will be a way of not making people feel they are forgotten. Plans are being developed to deliver a hot meal once a week and we are currently looking for funding to pay for these initiatives. Each of the participating bodies have pledged individual donations to get started, but this will need more resources to achieve our ambition.
We have also engaged with local schools where we have started a pen pal exchange and staff and volunteers have been delivering their letters an pictures when they are out and about visiting people.
Leeds Irish Centre have printed stamped-addressed postcards which are being sent out to people on their database to engage them and start asking them to think of people who might need a helping hand and send a postcard onto them. This will start to create knowledge of the scheme outside the cohort of people engaging through social media.
The knowledge that the community has mobilised to protect the vulnerable will be a legacy we can all be very proud of.