Keeping the lights on at the London Irish Centre 

Dear friend/A chara,

Firstly, I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well through these challenging times. If our services can support you, please do get in touch.

I am writing to update you on how Covid-19 has impacted on the work of London Irish Centre (LIC) and on how we are responding and planning for the future.

Although these are difficult times, they are also times of powerful Irish community spirit and generosity. I have been humbled to receive so many offers of help, from financial donations to food deliveries and offers of volunteering. Thank you, all.

I am grateful for every offer of help, and I want to personally let you know that they all make such a difference. It has been so good to feel strong community support as we go through these times together.

This support and generosity mean everything to us, so I wanted to write to you to let you know about some of the work we are doing to support the wellbeing of our communities.

We closed the doors of the London Irish Centre on the 18th of March with a very heavy heart, knowing how much the Centre means to clients, volunteers, staff, and trustees alike. This had a major impact on our finances and our cultural programme, with significant loss of income. However, the health and wellbeing of the community come first, and our wonderful team of staff and volunteers set to work to come up with an emergency response.
 
Over the last five weeks, we have completely reshaped our services, prioritising the older, vulnerable, and isolated members of the community as well as those severely affected through loss of jobs and income as a result of the crisis. We have worked intensely to provide support with hot meals, food parcels, books, welfare advice and emotional support. We have also supported those in genuine financial distress.
 
We are all in this together, so I am very proud that our organisation has been able to play a part in the community response through providing:
 

  • Hot lunches: We are delivering close to 240 meals a week.
     
  • Food parcels: Personalised food parcels for vulnerable people, including fresh food and books to boost mental stimulation.
     
  • Partnerships: We entered into partnership with Camden Council to allow delivery of food parcels from the Kennedy Hall on a larger scale to the ‘shielded’, highly vulnerable individuals in self-isolation.
     
  • Telephone befriending: Our Befriending service has moved to a telephony service, and we have trained 35 new volunteers who will phone isolated people up to twice daily, providing regular, friendly contact to people who are cocooning.   
     
  • Online Web Chat Advice: We launched our web chat Advice Service at the beginning of April. This new format is reaching a younger client group, including people who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
     
  • Relaunching our cultural programme: Next week, we will launch The Solas Season, a curated series of online culture and community to keep us all connected and inspired during challenging times.
     
  • Health and Wellbeing Advice line: We launched a telephone support and advice line for people with concerns about their health and wellbeing during the pandemic, to alleviate pressure on the NHS. Staffed by our in-house nurse Ciara, and supported by a team of ten expert volunteers, the service gives people support to stay well mentally and physically during the pandemic.
     
  • Library Outreach: We are now delivering books from our library to people’s homes. Our librarian, John Dunne, speaks to isolated people on the phone and helps them select books or makes recommendations based on their interests.
     
  • Expanded volunteering: We have expanded our volunteer programme and have had more than 200 new volunteers sign up with us since social distancing came in.
     

Giving back and doing as much as we can to support the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of our community has always been our mission. It is something that is more important now than ever, so we will continue to try to support families and the community in every decision we take.

But we could not do any of that without the support of our community and our funders, so thank you for continuing to support us and the community.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say a special thanks to the Irish government and to Camden Council for working hand in hand with us through these new challenges. It has truly been a wholehearted community effort.

I believe the stories below of two members of our community shine a light on the wonderful benefits of your support. They are a great testament to your commitment to the London Irish Centre. However, the support directly impacts not just our clients, but also their families, who are also often isolated or separated by great distance.

One of our client’s family members, Sheila O’Sullivan, wrote about her dad: “You don't know how much this support means to me. I have had to isolate myself away from dad as I still need to attend work as a teacher. I also live a good 30-40 mins away from him. I always knew that dad was getting 3 good meals a week going to your lunch club. Plus, more importantly, the social interaction. It breaks my heart dad being at home alone. Thank you. This is just wonderful.”
 
I look forward to the time when we can all get back together again.
 
In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.
 
Ellen Ryan
CEO







STORIES OF IMPACT

Mary* lives in Kilburn and contacted us at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. Mary has myeloma cancer, COPD, anxiety, and depression. She lives with her brother Paul, who is methadone dependent, schizophrenic and a right-leg amputee. Mary was advised by Paul’s mental health coordinator that she would have to go out to the pharmacy despite getting a letter from the NHS stating that she was in the most at-risk group. The pharmacy refused to deliver Paul’s medication, so Mary called us to ask for help to liaise on her behalf. Mary had also lost her sister a year previously, so was terrified of getting unwell herself or passing anything onto Paul. We got in contact with the local council’s Covid-19 response team, which arranged for all medication to be delivered. Our advice worker also referred Mary and her brother to our food parcel service so that she could access food without having to go outside to get it and put her and her brother at risk. Mary could not use an online delivery service as she is not computer literate. The stress of having to go out was exacerbating Mary’s mental health issues, and she said she was so relieved when the first food parcel was delivered to her door. Mary has also been referred to Ciara’s Health and Wellbeing Advice line so that she can get expert advice on how to remain well, both mentally and physically.
 
Liam*, 50, got in contact with us via the online chat service. Liam explained that he had to self-isolate for 12 weeks after receiving a letter from the NHS identifying him as one of the most at-risk due to his physical health conditions. He has asthma, COPD and limited mobility as a result of a back injury. Liam said that he only had enough food for another day and needed help to get his medication. He had no support in the area and had tried to call social services for support, but they were refusing to help. Liam lived outside of our food delivery zone, in south London. A safeguarding concern was raised for Liam on the day he contacted us, and a social worker was assigned to his case the next day. A food delivery was sent to Liam by his local council, and he called our advice worker to say that he would have been lost without our intervention. Liam has also been put on the list for telephone befriending and has our advice workers’ details, should he need any other support in the future.

* Names changed for privacy