By Rebecca McGirr
THE official launch of new charity Connect Fermanagh, a telephone befriending service for people who are feeling isolated or lonely, took place last Thursday in Fermanagh House.
The charity was established by The Fermanagh Trust in April 2020 in response to the Covid 19 pandemic. The majority of people who use the service are elderly, isolated and feel vulnerable.
During the launch event service users and volunteers met for the first time after speaking on the phone with one another for two years and expressed how much Connect Fermanagh meant to them.
Margaret Thomas met with her friend Dolores Hyde who joined the service in May 2020 after she said the death of her father during lockdown left a ‘massive void.’
‘I could empathise with people being on their own because my dad absolutely hated being left on his own,’ said Dolores. ‘And because of the pandemic I knew that there was going to be a lot of people left on their own for long periods of time so me and my sister who is also a volunteer, decided to contact Connect Fermanagh.’
Dolores explained how she felt that the pandemic helped to highlight just how many people are living on their own and are feeling isolated.
She said, ‘I suppose we do make the assumption that people were only isolated because of Covid but the fact is people have probably been living in isolation long before and I suppose Covid just highlighted for ourselves how difficult it is to be stuck in the house.’
During their first meeting Margaret, who lives on her own, said she would like to continue using the service and speaking to Dolores.
‘I have been speaking to Dolores for over a year now’ she said. ‘We talk about what we are doing and what our families are doing, I have enjoyed every moment of it and I hope to continue speaking with her.’
Dolores said, ‘I was really looking forward to meeting Margaret, I can now picture her when I’m talking to her on the phone, it will be lovely to be able to now put a face to the name.’
Lauri McCusker director of The Fermanagh Trust spoke with pride at how his charity started Connect Fermanagh thinking it would be a short term project, but has grown into an organisation demonstrating the demand and need for the service.
Mr McCusker also expressed going forward with the charity that more needs to be done to help people become more digitally literate and prevent them from being digitally excluded as a lot of information particularly about different services is online.
Julie Carney, Connect Fermanagh co-ordinator said, ‘The pandemic was the catalyst but loneliness was already there and even now without lockdowns the need for a befriending service is still strong. For our volunteers it’s a quick and simple way to give something back through weekly calls. It makes such a different to those feeling isolated.’
To find out more information about the charity visit their website www.connectfermanagh.org
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