I’m the CEO of Active Retirement Ireland (ARI). ARI is a voluntary, charitable organisation for older people.
Pre-COVID we had 570 local Active Retirement Associations across the country, we’ve 411 now. They’re all run by volunteers.
In general, we’ve a good community framework out there across rural Ireland. I might live in Dublin now, but I’m from a very small village in Co Waterford originally.
There’s a fantastic sense of community across rural Ireland, I feel.
We need to keep building on it, because as our communities are changing and becoming more diverse.
We need to extend the hand of friendship more and more.
The whole ethos of ARI is to extend the hand of friendship, so that people don’t feel excluded and don’t feel lonely.
That somebody is there to say: “Come along with me. Let’s join this and you’ll get to know the community better.”
I wasn’t always in the community and voluntary sector. In my younger days I qualified as a microbiology technician.
So I worked in various different places in terms of biochemistry and microbiology.
In 1984 I was made redundant from my job as a laboratory technician and because I was pregnant with my first child, I knew in terms of women’s equality that there weren’t going to be many options open to me coming back.
So I actually didn’t work after I had my first child, but because I was always busy and always doing things, I got involved in volunteering at local adult education classes.
That started my journey into the community and voluntary sector.
I volunteered for years with the local adult education group here in Clondalkin.
I volunteered in the crèche, on the committee there.
Then I went on and did some courses as they came up. In 1993 I got a paid job working with women’s networks.
Then I moved to work with Aontas, the National Adult Learning Organisation, before I became CEO of Active Retirement Ireland in 2009.
It takes empathy to work in the voluntary sector.
I started out in science. I had a complete and utter change of direction and I really am quite blessed.
Don’t ever be afraid, no matter what age you are, to try something new or try something different.
It’s very different now. When I was younger you had people stuck in careers for life. There was that sense that if you were in a job where you got a pension, you stuck with it.
It wouldn’t be heard of that you’d be leaving good jobs. Nowadays, it’s very different. It’s much more acceptable. People do move and people do change.
Life is about learning and you learn every single day. If you’re blessed enough to be able to do different things and volunteer, get a sense of your community, it’s a fantastic thing to know, because community is so important.
It’s so important for us as a country, but it’s also so important for ourselves to know that we are a part of this community. This is where we belong.
Recently ARI developed a relationship with Craol, the Community Radio Forum of Ireland. Our podcast, The Old Country, is being played on community radio across the country.
The reason we did this is because local and community radio is listened to by the majority of older people.
They just love it for various different reasons. The local news or local catch ups, for funerals or deaths and just general conversation.
The Old Country podcast was recorded in the summer of 2021 during COVID-19 and is a mix of a few different things.
There are experts speaking about aging and members speaking about digital skills they’ve learned. It’s like a lovely Liquorice Allsorts bag of different things.
Consultation with older people around what’s happening in their communities is really, really important.
And they will engage, because older people are participative. They’re well able to voice what they see from their years of experience as to what could improve their communities.
Their life experience is tremendous and is an experience that needs to be included when decisions are being made around what’s going to happen in anybody’s community.
The same as other sectors of Irish society need to be consulted with.
Older people need to be seen for the active participants that they are. You will find, pre-COVID-19, older people were the ones that would volunteer within their communities.
You’d see older people in the St Vincent de Paul, the Meals on Wheels, etc.
All active retirement associations, across the board, across all the counties, are run by committees of volunteers.
ARI, we have associations all over the country and everybody, every older person and every community are welcome.