BY EMMA CONNOLLY
THIS is Cork working for Cork.
That’s how Skibbereen’s Catherine Field, chairperson of Cope Foundation, summed up the essence of the organisation when she spoke at their 60th anniversary concert in City Hall in Cork.
The show, last week, saw over 300 performers showcase their talents, stories and insights to an audience of almost 900 people in what was a celebration of the organisation and the people who continue to make it a success story.
Catherine, who began working with Cope’s Skibbereen branch 43 years ago when she moved to the town from her native Bandon, explained to a packed City Hall how it all started: ‘In 1956 an ill wind struck Cork city and county in the form of a polio epidemic affecting mainly children. We must pay tribute to the men and women who set up what was Cork Polio and General Aftercare Association at a small meeting in a Cork city hotel in 1957 – they ploughed a furrow that has grown and developed. They opened the Turkish Baths on the South Mall, employed physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers, these were rare things in 50s Ireland. These men and women were brave and bold.’
She continued: ‘By mid 1960s the work of rehabilitation had been more or less completed and the group, instead of disbanding, took the bold decision to provide services (which barely existed in Cork) for people with an intellectual disability.’
Today Cope Foundation offers an array of person-centred services and supports to 2,350 children and adults with intellectual disability and/or autism across its 69 locations in the city and county, by working in partnership with individuals, their families and local communities.
There are currently 1,547 people using its day services, 433 using residential services and 370 benefitting from multi-disciplinary therapies including SLT, physiotherapy and ASD Services.
It provides supports and services for over 80 people in its West Cork facilities with fundraising groups in Clonakilty, Bandon, Skibbereen, Dunmanway, Macroom and Ballinagree.
Catherine singled out these volunteers for praise: ‘We salute the volunteers and families who gave of their time and expertise for a very long time – their dedication, commitment and imagination over the years is something we can all be very proud of.’
Cope clients performed a range of acts at the ‘Cheers to 60 Years’ show and were joined on stage by personalities including Olympian Rob Heffernan and musician John Spillane.
The Inclusive Gamelan Group at Cope Foundation, Skibbereen (a partnership between Cope Foundation’s Suisha Inclusive Arts and Cork Mental Health Services) brought the amazing ‘Gamelan’ to life and featured West Cork-based singer/songwriter Ger Wolfe.
For most, it was their first time seeing and hearing the gamelan (a set of tuned bronze percussion instruments played by an ensemble of up to 20 musicians) and the West Cork group certainly impressed everybody on the night.
Cope’s chief executive Sean Abbott said he hoped the show had left the audience with an impression of what they are achieving every day.
Speaking at the event he said: ‘When Catherine Field and I brought together a group of people in May to ask if they would organise a show to celebrate Cope Foundation’s 60th anniversary in November we were met with some apprehension and concern because of the timeframes we had given them and the amount of time required to develop such a production.
‘But under the guidance and direction of Eoin Nash and team of incredibly talented and motivated colleagues and volunteers, the show Cheers to 60 Years has in a real way reflected on our past, celebrated our present and looked towards our future – and has hopefully left you with a lasting memory of what the people we support have and are achieving every day as a result of the incredible work of my colleagues, our hundreds of volunteers and the support of the community of Cork.’
However, he said that in celebrating past achievements, it must also be acknowledged that there remains a lot to do.
‘Some of our most urgent challenges concern the needs of people we support and their families that we cannot currently meet. Our future is about continuing the work that we do, but also facing up to the challenge of doing even more and like those who have gone before us, we will face that challenge and continue to meet the needs of people with intellectual disability and autism into the future, confident in the knowledge that we have the full support of the citizens of Cork city and county.
‘This is the start of a new chapter for Cope Foundation, one that we hope will last for another 60 years.
‘This chapter in the
organisation’s history will be about enhancing people’s lives. We will be focussing on supporting people one person at a time, enabling them to lead a life of their choosing, connected, working and participating in their local communities.
‘We will be unapologetic and unerring in our ambition for the people we support; we will continue to support each and every one of you to lead extraordinary lives of your choosing, guided by you and beside you for as long as you need us.’