Skibbereen Community School pupils volunteer at a local club for older people, with obvious benefits for all concerned, writes Jackie Keogh
They mix well despite the fact that the average age of the volunteers is 16 and the age of the older adults, attending Skibbereen Luncheon Club, could be anything between 65 to 98.
Transition Year students from Skibbereen Community School help out at the club every Tuesday and Friday – some play musical instruments, some run errands up town, some are content to serve, or do the wash up, while others use it as an opportunity to showcase their talents by putting on slideshows or running general knowledge quizzes.
‘They are giving the gift of their time,’ said Áine Minihane, the services manager at Skibbereen Luncheon Club – a facility that was established four years ago at Cara House as a purpose-built social centre for older adults.
‘It is of benefit to both. In fact, many of the students believe they get more out of it than the adults because they find it relaxing spending
time with the group.
‘It’s very rewarding. The gratitude they get for running an errand – something that might not have been possible for mobility reasons – is immense,’ said Áine.
‘They love hearing the old stories – although some of our older adults tend to exaggerate as a wind-up, which is, of course, hilarious.
‘The 40 transition years students started out with just one aim, and that was to get more involved in the local community.
‘When Ms Anne Sheerin, the transition year co-ordinator, approached us with the idea in September we didn’t have to think twice.
‘In the past, we have had students from St Fachtna’s de la Salle and Mercy Heights, but since the local schools amalgamated there is a whole new dynamic because the group is mixed and they are very focused on what they are doing.
‘Even the so-called rotten jobs – like washing up after 40 or 50 people every Tuesday and Friday – tends to be great craic.’
Áine explained that the students come in groups of ten on a rota basis.
On Tuesdays they visit from 11.15am to 12.15pm. That tends to be the day the students provide musical entertainment, which ranges from traditional ballads to the best of Ed Sheeran.
On Fridays the students come from 11.15am to 1.15pm – a double slot – which gives them plenty of time to run errands, host a quiz, clean up, or simply catch up on all the news from the week before.’
Áine explained that sometimes an older person would go with the students on an errand, such as visiting the pharmacy to collect their prescription, or buying a bag of groceries at the supermarket. And sometimes it’s just a simple matter of popping a letter in the post.
‘By facilitating the transition year students,’ Áine said, ‘we are forging closer links with the community and that fits with our stated objective of being active members of the community, and not being restricted by age.
‘In that regard, we also host citizen advice talks, crime prevention talks and Marie Keating Foundation cancer awareness talks because we, as a group, firmly believe that knowledge is power.’
Another proactive programme is the gentle daily exercise regime, which is designed to increase peoples’ flexibility, mobility and muscle strength.
‘The more fit and flexible a person is, the less likely they are to have accidents in the home, which is perhaps their greatest worry,’ said Áine.
‘But by attending every week the adults are not only eating well and exercising, they are also developing their social network, which is a key ingredient in reducing social isolation.’
The Skibbereen Luncheon Club is also working in partnership with Local Link Transport, a Government-backed initiative that is specifically aimed at reducing social isolation by providing transport from rural to urban areas.
‘It is a fantastic service that collects people from outlying areas, such as Skeaghanore and Caheragh, as well the greater Skibbereen area.’
As many as 20 people rely on this service each day, but the other 20 or 30 people who attend the luncheon club either drive themselves, walk, or come with a family member. ‘We are in the fortunate position,’ said Áine, ‘of never having to refuse anyone that wants to become a part of our luncheon club.’
There are around 100 people attending the club at different times of the week. Some people come once a week; some twice, and then there are others who book a place when it suits them.
All of them agree that at just €10 a day it is a great service and anyone who would like to find out more, or book a place, can call 028-22269.
The day begins at 11am with teas, coffees and fresh scones, followed by plenty of chat and entertainment – all of which is a prelude to the four-course lunch – and an sociable afternoon until 3pm.
When the Skibbereen Luncheon Club started four years ago, Áine said: ‘It predominately attracted female attendees, but I am delighted to say we are slowly catching up in terms of gender balance – which makes it more interesting for everyone.’