Big grant helps older people on Causeway Coast

A PROJECT to improve the lives of isolated older people in the Ballymoney area has been awarded a major grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

Causeway Older and Active Strategic Team (COAST) has been awarded a grant of £495,991 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching Out: Connecting Older People programme which supports older people affected by issues such as bereavement, disability or long term illness or who live in residential care or sheltered housing.

The funding will be used to expand existing services for older people across the four council areas of Ballymoney, Coleraine, Limavady and Moyle.

Thelma Dillon, COAST Chairperson, said: “COAST has two roles. One is to be a voice for older people by setting up forums in each council area so they can communicate their opinions and access information. The other is practical support for older people, giving them opportunities to get involved.”

The project will extend established Good Morning schemes and hope to reach 300 older people. It will also set up a befriending service, new luncheon clubs, develop a home safety scheme and offer handyman services at reduced rates.

“A Good Morning call may be the only voice an isolated person hears all day,” said Thelma. “It is a friend at the end of the phone who is happy to listen. They can be on the phone for an hour if the person has a concern they need to share and talk about. If necessary a Befriender will call at the house. If a Good Morning call is not answered when it should be, then help will be on its way.

“An older person can be lonely wherever they live, but in rural areas they may not see anyone other than the postman for days or weeks on end. It is vitally important to ensure that people in these situations have access to services.”

New luncheon clubs will offer a social outlet which can boost a person’s mental health.

“Social inclusion is vital, and as well as a meal people can take part in activities like bingo, art, history talks and computers. Schools will be involved in intergenerational work and we will be providing transport to ensure people can get to the clubs,” said Thelma.

“Many of the projects to be delivered will need more volunteers, and we hope that many of these will be older people themselves ensuring they play an important role in society,” Thelma added.

Maureen Kane, 84, gets a Good Morning Call three days a week. “I live on the outskirts of Ballycastle and I drive so I am not immobile, but I do live alone,” said Maureen. “They phone me every Monday, Wednesday and Friday just to have a chat, see how I am and if there is anything I need. It gives me a real boost just knowing someone is thinking about me. It is also good to talk rather than bottling things up, and it is reassuring knowing that someone is looking out for you and will check up on you if you don’t answer the phone.”

Frank Hewitt, Big Lottery Fund NI Chair, said: “We are already seeing the really positive impact that the Connecting Older People programme is having on the lives of our most vulnerable older people in Northern Ireland. The programme is supporting a range of vital projects that are transforming the lives of older people in our communities who are at risk of isolation, depression, mental and physical ill health and low self esteem. Our funding is supporting those older people who need our help the most.”