Voluntary service helps older people by listening

Mayor of Kilkenny Sean O’ hArgain, Nickey Brennan, and the members and friends of Kilkenny Older People’s Forum gathered in the brewery’s Cellar Bar on Monday for the launch of the Kilkenny Senior Helpline.

Mayor of Kilkenny Sean O’ hArgain, Nickey Brennan, and the members and friends of Kilkenny Older People’s Forum gathered in the brewery’s Cellar Bar on Monday for the launch of the Kilkenny Senior Helpline.

The voluntary service is part of Kilkenny’s Age Friendly initiative, and the launch was sponsored by Smithwick’s Brewery, and arranged by Niamh Hennessy and Torey O’ Driscoll, Age Friendly Office. Senior Helpline is a service providing a confidential listening service to older people in Kilkenny who are worried, lonely or just need someone to talk to.

Trained volunteers listen, and provide information, practical and emotional support to callers. The service is available for the price of a local call.

Mayor Sean O’ hArgain said the importance of the role of volunteers could not be over-stated.

“I grew up in a household where volunteering came first,” he said.

“I still sometimes feel that we don’t acknowledge enough how important the work of volunteers is. I wish this helpline every success. I take my hat off to you – you provide a very important service.”

The mayor said it was fitting that the event was taking place in the brewery, as companies such as Smithwicks historically had a positive record in looking after their former workers. He said that the ‘post-Celtic Tiger’ society should involve a return to traditional moral values and general social concern.

“We need to rediscover the way we lived,” he said.

“People need to get back into the habit of just calling in on people, of being good friends and neighbours.

Third Age have run the service nationally since 1998. Traditionally, Christmas can be a difficult for those who have few social contacts.

The majority of callers are in the 66-75 age group, followed by callers aged 50-65. By far, the largest caller category tends to be single, widowed, living alone or separated.

Many callers are frequent or regular callers, some of whom have built up a relationship with the volunteers. Males aged 66-75 tend to be the most frequent callers experiencing loneliness, with ‘nobody to talk to’ the most frequent reason given.

Loneliness is typically followed by family problems, financial worries, health issues, information seeking, bereavement, suicidal thoughts and elder abuse as reasons for calling Senior Help Line.

Nickey Brennan, who is the chairman of the Kilkenny Age Friendly County Alliance, said he was delighted the phone service had been facilitated in the city. “Unfortunately, we have plenty of people who just need a listening ear,” he said.

“It could be loneliness, it could be family troubles, worries over money. It is nice to talk to someone in a non-judgemental way.”

Mr Brennan thanked the various local bodies, including the Gardai, the HSE, the Older People’s Forum, Father McGrath Centre, and the phone operators.

“This is an important part of our age-friendly structures here in Kilkenny,” he said.

“Hopefully, people will not need this service, but unfortunately, we find they do. If we even help one person, we will have done a good job, but I know we help a lot more than that. Our ambition is to make Kilkenny a good place to grow old.”

Debra O’ Neill of the Age Friendly County Programme thanked everyone in attendance and praised the work of local groups in their co-ordinated approach.

“It is important to get the word out about this before Christmas,” she said.

“The volunteers have run this service since February and in the last few months there has been an increase in traffic. There are at times between six and 20 calls in a timeframe. And it can be challenging, it is not an easy job either.”

The service operates between 10am and 10 pm, every day. Contact Senior Help Line on 1850-440444.