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Dublin: 3 °C Friday 16 November, 2018
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"Loneliness can take 4 to 5 years off you": how an arts-based service for older people in Wexford is looking to fight social isolation

The originally Dublin-based initiative is looking to expand to the rest of the country and help older people connect.

Cultural companions looks to launch in Wexford in June.
Cultural companions looks to launch in Wexford in June.
Image: Anne Marie Laffan

“THE MORE I stayed in, the more I wanted to stay in,” says Deirdre (75) about life before Cultural Companions, a programme to help fight social isolation in older people. ”It gets harder and harder to get out.”

But when she heard about the service for older people to enjoy art and cultural events while making new friends, she decided to change things around.

After her mother had died and Deirdre had retired from work, she found she missed going out and attending social events with other people. The Dublin Cultural Companions programme came along just at the right time.

“It’s got me excited again for those things,” she says.  “It [going to cultural events] was one of those I missed most of all.

I didn’t want to go out on my own – there’s no enjoyment on your own.”
Deirdre was just one of many voices telling her story to a crowd of nearly 80 older people interested in the Wexford version of Cultural Companions that is being launched next month in the county.

Cultural Companions-8 People attending the information session in Wexford.

The concept began life four years ago as a Dublin-based initiative to give people over 50 the opportunity to experience art and cultural events and make new friends.

It was something that Wexford County Council Age Friendly Co-ordinator Ann Marie Laffan and others on the council wanted to bring to the Wexford area.

They decided to host a meeting to test the waters of who would be interested. They were expecting 20 to 30 people to show up – when nearly 80 showed up they knew that this was something important to people.

“There was a lot of interest,” says Laffan. “The actual reaction was very positive and people came and sat down with people they didn’t know and chatted away.”

While Dublin’s Cultural Companions consisted mostly of females, the Wexford meeting attracted many men who wanted to become involved and even step up to a volunteer ‘meet-and-greeter’ position who help facilitate the social events and make sure no one is left on their own.

Membership is free and the events will range from music concerts, to plays and even walking tour when the initiative kicks off in June.

Before and after each event, members will meet up over coffee or food and make those potential social bonds that can help fight the isolation some older people experience once they lose their partner or if their family has moved away.

“A lot of people said this was the kind of thing they were looking for,” says Laffan.

Some had lost a husband or wife and they feel they can’t go out and be seen enjoying themselves – that they need to have a certain mourning period.

She says once they become used to that way of living it becomes harder to get out, especially in more rural areas that don’t have adequate transport services.

But Laffan says they are in talks with the manager of their Local Link service that helps public transport system in rural areas. They’ll be helping facilitate getting members to and from events.

Cultural Companions-22 Dublin Cultural Companions telling their stories. Source: Anne Marie Laffan

Eileen (68) was another Dublin Cultural Companion who attended the Wexford event.

“I didn’t have much of a social life,” she says. “I was single and lived with my mother and father.”

When they died I was on my own – the last one in the house.”

When the programme was mentioned to her she decided to go along to see what it was all about. She has never regretted it.

“It’s enriched my life,” she says. Seeing new places and discovering her interest in art and culture made her feel more confident.

“Most people go to enjoy themselves – we’re all in the same boat.”

She hopes that more men take part in the Wexford chapter. While there’s always the men’s shed and similar initiatives, not all men will like the things they do there and might prefer going to cultural events, art galleries or plays, she says.

Deirdre says it’s important that programmes like this branch out to those harder to reach areas because, for her, Cultural Companions has given back her social life and independence.

“Loneliness is a killer,” she says. “You need to get out from under it.”

The Wexford Cultural Companions look to launch in June. If you’d like to know more information, visit here.

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