Companions who help everyone in Limerick community

A KEY project on the northside, which provides a listening ear to those who need it, is seeking to expand.

A KEY project on the northside, which provides a listening ear to those who need it, is seeking to expand.

Whether people need a friendly person just to have a chat with, or someone to share their problems with, the Community Companions in Moyross (CCM) are there to help out.

Each week, a team of four people - two of whom are volunteers - head into the estate to call to people’s homes.

Sometimes an appointment can last five minutes, and other times they can go on for an hour, depending on what comes up.

Now, with a new report stating the service needs €150,000 over three years to continue, its organisers have pointed out how important the service is to the community.

Set up in 2009, CCM came about after the nuns who previously visited homes were unable to continue.

Specifically targeted to the Moyross area, it was set up to respond to the needs of people who may be lonely, socially isolated, and may not be linking into services, supports and social opportunities which exist in Limerick overall.

One of the coordinators, Anne-Marie O’Connor, Ardnacrusha, said many people fall “under the radar” when it comes to the support services in Moyross.

“A few people got together to look at meeting and outreaching to the people. We felt that people were forgotten in this process: that it was all about bricks and mortar. The idea was to look at people who do not come under the radar at all,” she explained.

Uniquely for a Community Companion scheme, the service is universal - targeting everyone in the estate who wants support, not just the elderly and vulnerable.

A five-day a week service, the volunteers target different areas each day, and attempt to ensure that as many doors are knocked on as possible.

Anne-Marie says: “The idea is to treat everybody the same. We don’t know what people are involved in until they tell us. We are trying to get to people who do not look for any services.”

Despite this, isolated families remain a major concern.

The companions organise a coffee morning to help integration into the community.

Breda Duggan, a fellow coordinator on the project adds: “When you are in the middle of 700 houses, it is difficult if you’re alone. We have to try and encourage people to get involved. So we hold a coffee morning every Tuesday morning.”

The project is funded from a variety of sources, including through the regeneration scheme, and the HSE.

This is enough to employ two members of staff. There is currently a backlog of volunteers waiting to be trained to take part in the scheme.

One man already in place is Ger Kearns, of Ardnacrusha, who has volunteered for 18 months.

Asked what a typical day for him would entail, he says: “Most of the time, we would have houses in mind we would like to visit. We want to get a smile on their face, so we would keep talking to them. Some of them may ask us to come in. We sit down, and ask them how things are. They my offload their problems - there may be something troubling them that they cannot talk to anyone else about, so they come to us.”

Ger says the most rewarding moment comes when he is able to put a smile on someone’s face.

“When you hear back from people that we are making a difference, that is really nice,” he added.

Anne-Marie also recalled how they helped a lady who had broken her arm, and had been housebound for a year, return to independence.

With Christmas coming, the companions are planning to link up people living alone, so they can enjoy a festive dinner together on December 25. They will also help reunite family members who may have lost contact.

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