By Damian Dolan
Three Leeds GAA clubs have teamed up with a host of Irish organisations across the city to offer support Leeds’ elderly and vulnerable Irish population, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hugh O’Neills, St. Benedicts Harps and John F Kennedys are all part of an initiative which was launched last Friday.
They’re also joined by, amongst others, the Leeds Irish Centre, Leeds Irish Health and Homes, Irish Arts Foundation, Leeds St Patrick’s Day Parade, Leeds Mayo Association, Joyce O’Donnell School of Irish Dancing, Watson McCleave Academy of Irish Dancing, Helen Rowland Academy of Irish Dancing and Leeds Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann.
They’ve all come together to form ‘The Leeds Irish Communities’ – the purpose of which is to identity those Irish people in the community in need at this time, and then to assist in any way they can.
“We are very much a club, but a club is nothing without a community. That is why we got involved,” Hugh O’Neills’ Eoin Murray told the Irish World.
The Leeds Irish Communities are coming together to support the Irish & wider community in Leeds through this tough time. Would you be interested in volunteering with us? Watch to find out more about the campaign & what you can do to help. Sign up here: https://t.co/WEdr8Lw2MT pic.twitter.com/0qjGY4rks5
— Hugh O’Neills GAA (@hughoneillsgaa) March 27, 2020
The Co Meath native, who has been involved with Hugh O’Neills for the past six years and is trainer to the men’s team, is the club’s representative on ‘The Leeds Irish Communities’ committee.
“Leeds has been very good to a number of us and we’re very proud of our Leeds-Irish community.
“That shows through the response and the number of organisations which have come together. It’s really impressive.
“Hopefully we can do some good.”
The campaign is two-fold. To identify those in need and to recruit volunteers (predominantly from the Leeds area) who will then deliver social and practical support.
That support could be helping with food shopping, picking up prescriptions or just being there to talk.
For the elderly and those who perhaps live on their own, their social networks, such as the Leeds Irish Centre, are temporarily no longer available to them.
Anyone who lives outside of the Leeds area, but would like to help by picking up the phone to call those in Leeds are welcome to get in touch.
“It’s about making sure elderly Irish people aren’t lonely and that they know there is help available to them,” said Murray.
“But while we’re offering this support to people in the Irish community, because that’s who the different organisations represent, we’re not going to discriminate against members of the wider Leeds community who also need help.
“If someone in the wider community is in need, we’re not going to turn them away.”
More than 70 people went online to sign up as a volunteer within the first 24 hours of the initiative being launched.
“It’s grown really quickly; it’s amazing how quickly we’ve all come together – we’ve all essentially joined the same team – to now work together to help those within our community in need,” said Murray.
“It’s been really well received by a range of demographics.
“This is a collective effort – it’s not one organisation or a group of individuals.”
It’s also about spreading the word, says Murray.
“The biggest problem we have is that those who are potentially most in need, are not necessarily online,” he said.
Irish organisations in #Leeds are mobilising to provide support to the #Irish and wider community. Have a listen to their moving & heartening messages of support and find out more here: pic.twitter.com/PRsY9chETc
— Embassy of Ireland (@IrelandEmbGB) March 30, 2020
“So we’re trying to figure out different ways of reaching out into the community so that they know they’re not alone.”
He added: “The big thing is we don’t want to be unnecessarily replicating the great work being done by the NHS and other volunteer organisations, we’re trying to target those that are maybe being missed.
“The response you’ll get from some of the older Irish generation is ‘I’m grand’, but are they actually grand?”
‘The Leeds Irish Communities’ is currently only available to those living in or around the Leeds area.
However, if other organisations come on board, they say there could be the scope to review its support services on a case-by-case basis. They are also happy to share advice and resources with others looking to set up similar support networks.
If you would like to become a volunteer you can sign up by visiting: https://forms.gle/8REc7eeN6CqJ3X147
The Helpline number for anyone in need of immediate help in the Leeds area is: 07904246531