The Pilot Project is being organised as a first step in the implementation of the ‘GAA Social Initiative’. In August, all clubs were invited to apply for inclusion in the project but the total number of clubs participating is being limited to a small representative number from each county. At present, 93 clubs have been accepted into the project and they will lead the Initiative for the coming year. We intend to develop a ‘Lessons Learned’ process during this phase, whereby the experience gained by these clubs will be recorded and used for the benefit of those clubs involved in Year 2 (We will be inviting 5-10 clubs per county to participate in the second year of the Initiative). Participating clubs will receive a special certificate and the club considered to have made the most significant impact overall will be presented with a President’s award by Uachtarán CLG, Criostóir Ó Cuana.
The following is a menu of suggested activities that clubs have been asked to consider when deciding what to organise in their respective clubs. Many of the ideas emerged from club representatives during a successful Social Initiative seminar in Croke Park on October 16, 2010. Further details from the seminar are available from Seán Kilbride, Social Initiative Project manager at email@example.com and 01-8658617.
- Social Gatherings - Simple social gatherings either in the evening or, even, as some clubs are doing, in the morning/afternoon. For instance, in the latter case, some clubs are holding weekly breakfast mornings that are proving very successful. In the case of evening events, clubs are organising various themed evenings, such as card nights, bingo and quizzes that have a traditional and well-established following. In many cases, mens’ groups just want the opportunity to meet for a chat.
- Outings - Clubs are already organising outings for the older men in their clubs and, invariably, they are greatly appreciated by those involved. Such outings can vary from a visit to local points of interest to the regional capital, to Dublin and a tour of Croke Park itself. The clubs themselves have suggested outings to zoos, beaches, cities, races, agricultural shows, parks and exhibitions.
- Attending Games - Many of the men involved will have played in the past and may have ceased attending games for one reason or another. Efforts could be made to reignite an interest in the local club team and, indeed, the county team by organising trips to club and county games. If possible, clubs should consider establishing relationships with other clubs in the Initiative - both inside and outside their own county - with a view to organising exchange visits between club groups. Also, clubs should consider attending other sporting codes in line with the inclusive nature of the Initiative.
- Reunions - Older men greatly appreciate opportunities to meet up with teams with which they played. There is a tendency to bring together only successful teams of the past and while their achievements should be fully acknowledged, many ex-players played for their clubs without ever experiencing success; such players also deserve recognition. For instance, clubs could celebrate players from a particular decade rather than a specific team.
- Health-related Activities - There is an increasing focus on the ageing process and especially in the context of the changing demographic profile of Ireland. For instance, the Government are in the process of developing a ‘Positive Ageing Strategy’. Clubs involved in the project are being encouraged to include in their activities a number of items related to older mens’ health. The most obvious one is of course some appropriate form of exercise. Many clubs have developed ‘Walkways’ around their pitches/grounds and these are providing a safe environment for older people in general to exercise and an opportunity to participate in club activities. In addition, some clubs have ‘Walking Groups’ within their structure and for those men who engaged in active sport in the past but who can no longer exercise, this is an excellent option to remain healthy in a social setting. Clubs who are thinking of developing a Walkway are being encouraged to contact the Irish Heart Foundation which will advice on how to have it certified as an official Slí na Sláinte walkway. In addition, contact has been made with HSE representatives and it is intended to establish a relationship between the clubs and local HSE bodies, especially the newly-established Primary Care Teams (PCTs) with a view to promoting healthy living and contribute to the Government’s ‘Positive Ageing’ Strategy.
- Age-Appropriate Games/Sport - Men in particular appreciate competition and there are a number of suitable games for men who are no longer physically capable of engaging in robust games. These include golf, fishing, bowls, skittles, boules, boccia, etc. Such options will be explored in conjunction with age organisations such as Age and Opportunity and Active Retirement.
- Themed Events - There are many options in this category but one that is regularly suggested is that of a Question & Answer session with famous players of all codes – past and present. Clubs can also use major annual events/dates that offer a suitable opportunity to bring men together such as Christmas, St Patrick’s Day, All-Ireland Final Days.
- Capacity-building - Many Mens’ Groups around the country have given the lie to the notion that men are unwilling to learn new skills. Therefore, it is being suggested that clubs consider this option for inclusion in their programme of activities. The men involved will also possess many skills already – developed over a lifetime - that may just require updating. Overall, the men in our club areas retain the capacity to contribute significantly to the community, including to the club itself in areas like pitch/club maintenance, landscaping etc. Any initiatives in the area of further capacity-building can only be beneficial to the community and the mens’ confidence and facilitate their inclusion and integration into society.
- Music Sessions/Talent Competitions/Dancing - These types of activity are common around the country already and have the potential to be developed further. Clubs could consider exchange visits between clubs who are interested in this form of entertainment (maybe to coincide with a match).
- Community/Club Projects - As mentioned above, the men involved possess many skills and talents and have the potential still to contribute to community life. Utilising the mens’ talents, GAA club can develop projects that will enhance both the clubs themselves and the wider community.
- History Projects - Older men have a repository of memories that provide an invaluable reach into our pasts and constitute a vital historical resource. Clubs are encouraged to take advantage of this resource while it still exists to initiate club and local history projects. Consideration should be given to conducting this in conjunction with local schools.