Several years ago on St Patrick’s Day, I spent a few hours in the company of some older Irish immigrants to London, enjoying a chat and some Irish music and waiting for our bacon and Cabbage dinner to arrive! Each was proudly wearing their piece of shamrock. As the conversation unfolded it became all too apparent that for these men and women who had left Ireland as young people several decades ago, St Patrick’s Day was much more than an excuse for a party. It was a reminder of home and family, of a faith and a culture that was deep within them and crucial to their identity.
Older Irish people, part of that generation that emigrated to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s and who created strong bonds of solidarity when here, can however now find themselves increasingly alone and vulnerable. The Irish communities in London of which they were once a part have begun to fragment and disappear, and with it their links and connections with Ireland.
As a response to this the Irish Chaplaincy set up the Older and Vulnerable Persons Programme in 2005, to provide pastoral outreach, befriending, and advocacy to alleviate the social exclusion and loneliness of older Irish, across London.
Now known as the Irish Chaplaincy Seniors Project, the Chaplaincy continues to offer a culturally sensitive listening and visiting service, providing emotional, spiritual and practical support for older Irish people, and being alongside them to help and encourage them through any issues they may face. This can be anything from advocating on people’s behalf in relation to their health, housing or financial needs, linking people back with their friends and families in Ireland again, or supporting them as they are dying. Time and again the older Irish we support also tell us they want to be buried back in Ireland, in their former home towns and villages. We help to sensitively support and arrange these requests.
Most importantly we are there to listen, to listen to people’s stories, the happy times as well as the sad, their fears and also their hopes, their failures and their successes. We are there to ensure their voices are heard and to assure them that they are not forgotten, their lives do have meaning and that we will walk with them on the next stages of their journey for as long as they want us to.
Our Catholic ethos continues to motivate and nourish the work we do. We choose to stand alongside some of the most vulnerable and overlooked people in our society, because this is what Jesus does time and time again throughout the Gospels. It is this care for the forgotten and neglected of our communities that remains central to the mission of the Irish Chaplaincy today.
We are pleased to report that during May and June Sharon Tuppeny, a Consultant, will carry out a thorough review of the Seniors’ Project, and will be speaking to a variety of the stakeholders involved. Part of the objectives of the review are for the Irish Chaplaincy to articulate more clearly how it is uniquely placed to serve many of the elderly Irish in need of support; and also what the wider impact is of this work. We hope that a report will be produced by the end of July.
Paul Raymond, Irish Seniors Project Manager