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Struggle IS Part of Our Story………

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Struggle IS Part of Our Story………

Volunteer Now Conference, Belfast City Hall, 14th May 2019
Photograph by Declan Roughan, Press Eye

Volunteer Now responds to the wide-ranging nature of volunteering in Northern Ireland.  With a legacy stretching back 50 years, the organisation works in partnership with an ever growing number of organisations across the voluntary and community, public and private sectors .   Volunteer Now also supports a network of volunteer led older persons groups and forums and is a partner along with Engage with Age, North Belfast Senior Citizens and the Health Development Unit for the G6 which consists of elected representatives for the six-area based local seniors forums in Belfast.

The G6, all volunteers, with an average age of 70, exists to be the voice of older people in the City.  These are people who have lived through the most recent and most turbulent period of the ‘troubles’   On all ‘sides’ they have experienced a range of trauma and distress and have learned a great deal through this experience.   They have the status and capacity to offer positive role models and to challenge attitudes and negative stereotypes in their own communities and beyond.

The G6 is known as an effective consultative group and its views and opinions are sought regularly by policy makers from statutory agencies and a range of other government and voluntary bodies.   They also meet once a year with Belfast City Council All Party Reference Group on Older People to share priorities and ideas.    The Forum believes that by responding to the issues policy makers raise with them, they can mitigate against any negative impacts and thereby improve the lives of their peers.   They are a conduit for meaningful conversations and a channel through which older people exercise some influence on the high-level policies and decisions that impact on local people and the services that are vital to them.

The Forum has developed an Action Plan and identified four key issues which they consider to have a significant negative impact on the daily lives of older people in Belfast.   These are poverty; transport; health & social services and mental health,

The G6 has recognised that loneliness and isolation and a lack of contact with others can have a variety of adverse effects on the individuals involved; this can range from suicide to depression and low moods. In the period 2012 – 2016 almost twice as many older people (those over 50 years) committed suicide as those under 24.

To help address this, these dedicated volunteers have prioritised particular issues in relation to mental health and have agreed to:

  • Raise awareness of Mental Health issues for older people
  • Raise awareness of Suicide amongst older people
  • Act as champions of older people to source ‘good news’ and positive images with a view to reaching those who are alone and isolated and to help them to change their lives.

 

They have organised mental health awareness sessions across the City; organised Mall-Walking – a tried and tested way of encouraging older people to become more active and get more exercise and have produced a short film to respond to the growing issue of loneliness.

Rita Murray, Chairperson of the G6 explains:  “All of our volunteers are of a certain age, we are children of the post war era, survivors of the ‘troubles’, fighting the afflictions of older age, some battling the adversity of poverty and all of us contesting older people’s exclusion from modern society.   We are determined to challenge the modern narrative that implies we ‘cost more than we contribute!’ Far too often we hear that people are living longer, as if that’s a bad thing!  However, this is only part of who we are, every day we contribute to family and working life, we are mentors, role models, tax payers, counsellors, carers.   As older people we have a story, a place in society, we have much to contribute and struggle is only part of our story!”

Within the City, the G6 has proved itself to be an effective forum for consultation, exchange of information and action. These volunteers work hard to take on the issues that impact on the daily lives of older people. They harness the existing expertise, build on it and are determined to pave the way for an Age Friendly Belfast.

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