Dear Friends, 

As we come into August and with over 5 months of COVID-19 response behind us, I wanted to thank you all personally for your support in helping us to deliver services and for the way in which you have been such a heartfelt and professional part of the London Irish Centre community of friends, particularly in this very difficult period of time where we have seen everything change and a new normal arrive into our lives. 

The London Irish Centre has shown great agility and is more active than ever as we continue to ensure that those that need our support in the community are provided with essential services. 

However, as we move on from crisis to recovery and gradually open our doors again, we are doing all the groundwork to make sure the building is COVID-19 secure and that staff and volunteers are well versed in safe working practices. This of course involves lots of change to our programmes, the way we work together as a community and how we run our building. We know that our community will support us in ensuring that everyone is safe and well as we all adjust our ways of working and relating to each other. 

We also want to bring hope and fun back into our lives and we are super excited about some of our new services such as our Irish Community Kitchen and Community Fridge which are producing beautiful meals, and ensuring that food is distributed to alleviate the major social issue that is food poverty. The kitchen is led by our chef Ailbhe, all the way from Dingle, using lots of local donations of food as well as striding into Hampstead Heath to forage for black berries for her amazing crumble! Great to have another proud Kerry woman on the team!

We know that you missed our cultural programmes along with the vibrancy and sense of community our events bring to London. Starting from scratch and with that in mind, we delivered our SOLAS digital cultural programme (storytelling, poetry, readings, music) bringing together a mix of the historical and the modern as a wide representation of the rich mix that is Irish culture. This cultural programme reached over a quarter of a million people at a very difficult and lonely time. This is the widest reach we have ever had and is one that we intend to build more of our cultural offer on. The programme has now been evaluated and over 90% of those that responded said it helped them feel connected at a time of lockdown; gave them a stronger appreciation of Irish culture and heritage with a commitment to keeping this going and supported their wellbeing. We are now planning the next season of this to kick off in September. This will sit alongside a heritage project which will look at the Story of the Irish in London from different perspectives and age ranges in the past, present, and future. We will be in touch with you to get your views as we want you all to feel you have a part to play in telling this story. 

We also hope that you were able to join in and enjoy our London Irish Charity Night In. Hosted by our fantastic Patron, Dermot O’Leary, and with the support of all our generous guests who donated their time. We were delighted that the evening was so well received, and we will not forget the outpouring of donations and support. This is a huge reminder of the need to keep flexible in this situation and of the power of culture, community, and imagination to transform. I will hold that close to my heart as we go into the future and ensure that the curiosity in our rich and vibrant culture is maintained and keeps our spirits high.

We have a significant cohort of brilliant volunteers who continue to overwhelm us with their ongoing support ranging from food packing and delivering; telephone befriending; client wellbeing checks; running our library and providing an outreach library service; tending the gardens and providing marketing, communications and administrative support. We could not do it without them. Thank you all again.  

As we begin to see the city return to a new ‘normal’, we are reflecting on these past months. Although they were a challenging time for all, there were times of great kindness, hope, and positivity. From hundreds wishing to volunteer their time, donors and funders helping to alleviate the financial pressure, artists donating their time and talent and the core team of staff and volunteers, the London Irish Centre has played a significant part in the response to COVID-19 in London and should be justifiably proud of their response and commitment to the community. We could not have done this without you. 

I am so proud of what has been achieved and below are some of our statistics since March 18th:

  • Our Advice team has obtained £365,720 in benefits for clients. 

  • There have been 4,470 advice sessions over the phone and through email. 

  • The Advice team have worked with over 733 clients. 

  • £7,950 has been given to clients through crisis grants.  

  • Our London Irish Charity Night In raised over £100,000.  

  • A quarter of a million people participated in our SOLAS Season cultural programme to help people feel connected. 

  • We delivered over 4,000 meals and 1,200 food parcels to those who were shielding across London. Our volunteer drivers were often the only visitor for many people. 

  • We made over 2,800 check-in calls to clients providing friendly, regular contact. 

  • We helped over 100 people through our wellbeing advice helpline. 

  • We set up over 70 telephone befriending pairs who speak on the phone several times a week and who have now made rich links across the generations and new friendships. 

Challenging and exciting times lie ahead as we start the process of recovery and a gradual and safe return to the building. We have learnt so much about our role in the community and we have confirmed the need for the LIC into the future. We have a significant journey ahead of us, and part of that is supporting people who are now much more vulnerable than they were before. We can already see vastly deteriorated mental and physical health in people and a tsunami of job losses and increasing debt. While the situation on COVID-19 has evolved, it is clear that much of the support provided will continue to be needed in the months ahead. I have no doubt that the community will continue to show the same spirit in the future.

I really look forward to meeting you all at the LIC either online or face to face. Perhaps in the meantime, I could ask a simple favour. Word of mouth is the best form of marketing and an introduction to someone within your close network from someone like you would help grow the LIC network of likeminded individuals who wish to make a difference in these challenging times. 

We are nothing if not resilient as a people. We have experienced many challenges and now COVID-19 has challenged us all in ways that we never thought possible - but as ever, our shared values pull us through, and we remain caring and attentive to each other’s needs. Together we will pull through this. 

Until then, we will continue to be the best that we can be and to learn along the way. 

Stay safe and well. Keep connecting.

Best wishes,

Ellen Ryan