Coronavirus – Bringing purpose to life in the community

By Niall McHugh

Much has been said about the incredible work that has been done on the frontline of Irish hospitals in the wake of COVID-19.

Aside from combatting the illness directly, another fight taking place in the battle against the pandemic is being spearheaded within local communities across the country, as individuals identify new ways of staying connected, mobilising, and joining with others to do good.

In fact, the more traditional understanding of the word community is slowly being scrapped, as new communities are formed outside of the confines of just ‘people within the same locality’ or ‘with similar interests’. Well known communities such as the GAA have transcended local villages and townlands and now operate as a global body, constantly evolving as they and their members impact the lives of others. The GAA is just one example of an organisation/community who have successfully used their network, skills, and resources to care for and do good for others since the outbreak of the disease.

The reputations of various businesses like the aforementioned GAA, and at a more micro level, smaller community-based businesses and individuals who have been active, have all been enhanced as a result of community participation. This is a two-way street, with communities benefiting from their members, and the members benefiting from their participation.

Participation:

Smaller businesses are often dependent on the environments in which they operate and the locals which avail of their services. Now more than ever, businesses have a great opportunity to contribute within their various communities and adapt to their environment in ways like never seen before…

Restaurants have turned into grocery stores, An Post are collecting post from the elderly, An Garda Siochana are doing the grocery shopping for the more vulnerable among us. Their reputations enhanced purely through participation and action. A plethora of examples exist, and inspiration should be sought from some of the great ways in which communities have already come together. We’ve all seen videos of the Balcony Bingo, the Social Distancing Exercise classes and the great use of #InThisTogether on Twitter as a means of connecting people.

An example of businesses doing their bit and adapting, are local gyms, who at the best of times have had to regularly adapt and innovate to survive. Outside of hosting Zoom fitness classes, these gyms are also loaning equipment to members within their peripheral and allowing people to maintain some of their hobbies and interests while also encouraging good mental and physical fitness.

These same gyms have also activated and rallied their member base for good causes through the setting of challenges, such as the nominate five, run 5k, donate €5 for charity. One gym, based in Swords, Co. Dublin, upon realising that 75% of its members were frontline workers, successfully raised over €10,000 for charity by activating their online community and network, to walk 100,000 steps each in 24 hours using only their 2km exercise radius.

https://extra.ie/2020/04/24/lifestyle/health/group-doing-100000-steps-frontline-staff

Community linchpins, such as the GAA are active:

The GAA’s network of 1,600 clubs is supporting communities across the country by working in partnership with essential local suppliers to deliver food, fuel, prescriptions, and other vital goods to those who are cocooning or are incapacitated.

An incredible survey from earlier this month highlighted that, almost 90% of GAA clubs (of 1,090 who participated), were involved in some form of Covid-19 response, according to the GAA’s Community and Health Department. The same research found that 19,000 club members have been involved in the provision of support to more than 34,500 people during the current health emergency. A total of 811 clubs responded to say they are involved in the collection and delivery of essential goods and supplies for members of their communities unable to travel due to cocooning or other restrictions.

Additional areas of support, as seen by my own local club at Whitehall Colmcilles, include the activation of members within communities through the sharing of public health information, supporting members online, development of training video’s for younger audiences to keep up their training, grocery shopping, fuel collection, prescription medication collection, dog walking, transportation, fundraising and even home entertainment.

It is no surprise that sacred GAA grounds, such as Croke Park and Pairc Ui Chaoimh are now two of the largest COVID-19 test centres in the country operating within their respective communities. So too are Nowlan Park in Kilkenny and the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Their remit is not just within Ireland either, with GAA boards across the globe, including New York and Asia are undertaking similar initiatives within their own local communities and supporting members who may be isolating abroad.

Ireland’s call to community:

It is all well and good singing ‘Ireland’s Call’ in your garden with the neighbours but there is a real call to action for individuals and businesses alike, to really get stuck-in and contribute. Those who do not, run the risk that their reputation may be left in the dust, as communities remember those who participated and made an impact. Going forward, COVID 19 will act as an additional lens in how stakeholders perceive your organisation and your actions now will be key to future successes and the remobilisation of your business when restrictions and normal life eventually resume.

The Department of Rural and Community Development launched a plan called ‘Community Call’ to support the work of the people who are ensuring that the most vulnerable in our community are kept safe and well. Each local authority (council) has established a Community Response Forum to coordinate COVID-19 related community supports. As part of this, each local authority has established a helpline that vulnerable people can phone if they are looking for basic services such as delivery of food or meals, or transport for essential trips.

Anyone with an interest in supporting within their community, can find out more about helping out or volunteering here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/72694e-helping-in-the-community-during-covid-19/

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