By John Harrington
GAA clubs and members are encouraged to support the call by charity ALONE to ‘Share Your Warmth’ this Christmas.
ALONE is a national organisation that enables older people to age at home by supporting their physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing, and is an official charity partner of the GAA for 2023.
The aim of the ‘Share Your Warmth campaign’ is to motivate people to share the warmth of friendship or make charitable donations so that ALONE can help older people struggling with the increasing costs of living and the growing levels of loneliness across Ireland.
Since the start of the Year ALONE has provided 30,000 individual supports to older people across Ireland, which is a huge increase on last year.
A recently published survey by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre found that Ireland is the loneliest place in Europe, something reflected by the fact that loneliness consistently ranks as ALONE’s number one support issue.
Many GAA clubs already make a big effort to support lonely or otherwise vulnerable people in their community, often through a variety of Healthy Club Project initiatives.
Scotstown in Monaghan are a great example of a club that has done tremendous work over the last seven years to tackle loneliness in their community through their award-winning ‘Make Your Céilí’ initiative.
The brainchild of Scotstown Healthy Club Officer, Bernie Sherry, the initiative encourages club members to alleviate rural isolation by visiting a neighbour who may be lonely.
It’s run by a very enthusiastic Céilí Committee and has even engaged the local primary and secondary schools so it’s a cross-generational as well as community project.
“It brought the community closer together in that people were talking about it and getting involved in it and seeing how great a thing it was to do,” Sherry told GAA.ie.
“I think through GAA clubs is the best way to do initiatives like this because they're at the heart of their communities. I know our community got a great feel-good factor from it and continues to do so.
“Even if each person make one visit the difference that can make in a community is huge because it gives everyone a sense that we're all watching out for one another.
“The Céilí has now just become part of our community. I got a nice message recently from a younger person in the club who recently brought her children on a visit. They made the effort to visit someone for an evening and they had a great time playing cards.
“That sort of thing happens all the time now quietly behind the scenes and so many people are involved, including our senior footballers.
“It doesn't have to be an elderly person living on their own that you visit. it could be a new mother at home with a baby on her own who would love some company, or somebody new who has just moved into your community that you could pop into with some biscuits and welcome them.”
Scotstown have a number of other projects that encourage social interaction in their community, including a night when older card players teach younger people in the community how to play 45, and a lunch club every Wednesday.
On Christmas Day their Céilí Committee will quietly deliver dinners to those living alone in the community or anyone who might be unable to make a dinner.
It’s a great time for the club on the pitch as they prepare for Sunday’s AIB Ulster Club SFC Final against Glen.
But off the pitch Scotstown have also proven themselves to be a class act by fostering such an inclusive community.
“What we say here is that Scotstown is football, but we're also community,” says Sherry. “That's the message we always preach.
“The Céilí has definitely brought our community closer together, and I would love to see more and more GAA clubs do something similar.
“The message is that you shouldn't put it off any longer, go and see that person that's on your mind who you haven't seen in a long time. It could be a granny, an aunt, a work-colleague, somebody that's had a baby, somebody that's been bereaved, someone new who has moved to the community.
“We're encouraging people to make the effort to visit somebody and check in on them."
If you or someone you know needs support this Winter, please call ALONE’s National Support and Referral Line on 0818 222 024 from 8am – 8pm, seven days a week. ALONE operates 365 days a year so will be there to take your call when you need them most.