Making Connections for older people - one garden concert at a time

How one befriending group brought performances to those cocooning during lockdown

Classical guitarist Eamon Sweeney performed in the front garden of Elizabeth on her 90th birthday

Classical guitarist Eamon Sweeney performed in the front garden of Elizabeth on her 90th birthday

 

Many older people have found the restrictions during the Covid-19 crisis very difficult, especially the “cocooning” advice which cut them off from everyday face-to-face contact with neighbours, friends and casual acquaintances. Fears of infecting vulnerable people with the novel coronavirus has also meant that voluntary home visits from support organisations could no longer take place.

But one Dublin befriending project has found an innovative way to keep up - and even enhance - their contact with older people, many of who remain in their homes fearful of a second wave of Covid-19.

Making Connections, a south Dublin-based charity, began offering older people the opportunity to have a private performance in their front gardens. So far, these have included a classical guitarist playing and singing for a retired musician, a couple dancing for a man whose passion was ballroom dancing and a storyteller telling and sharing stories with an 83 year-old woman outside near her home.

Classical guitarist Eamon Sweeney performed in the front garden of Elizabeth on her 90th birthday. “I found the lockdown hard because I couldn’t see people so it was great fun to have a concert in my front garden,” says Elizabeth, who dressed up for the occasion. She has since started to go out for short walks, wearing a mask. “I’m a cheerful sort of person and I was determined not to get depressed [during lockdown]. I was sad when the volunteer (home visitor) couldn’t come but it was fantastic to have a live performer in my garden.”

Elizabeth: “I found the lockdown hard because I couldn’t see people so it was great fun to have a concert in my front garden”
Elizabeth: “I found the lockdown hard because I couldn’t see people so it was great fun to have a concert in my front garden”

Eamon Sweeney says that the 45 minutes he spent performing and chatting with Elizabeth was “very special”. “Technology is great and a lot of my teaching work has moved onto zoom but nothing can replace the human contact of live performing which is what art and music is so much about,” says Sweeney. He complements Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council which sponsors the initiative as part of its long tradition of bringing music to people in nursing homes, hospices, dementia day care setting and to young people in marginalised communities.

Stories

Storyteller Aideen McBride travelled from her home in Ballymun to share stories with 83-year old Marjorie in south Dublin. “I was thrilled to get a letter allowing me to travel. It’s amazing the little things we got excited about that we took for granted before the lockdown,” says McBride. Marjorie says that she was a bit daunted by the idea of the visit but she enjoyed sharing stories of her childhood with McBride.

Mary O’Donohue, the director of Making Connections says that there are plans to bring a salsa dancer, a children’s performer and a piano accordionist to older people’s gardens in the coming weeks.

Storyteller Aideen McBride travelled from her home in Ballymun to share stories with 83-year old Marjorie. Photograph: Aidan Oliver
Storyteller Aideen McBride travelled from her home in Ballymun to share stories with 83-year old Marjorie. Photograph: Aidan Oliver

The idea for these live performances came about because O’Donohue realised that many older people were particularly lonely during lockdown. “I noticed that there was an abundance of online resources supporting mental health and wellbeing but that the digital world was not an option for many older people,” says O’Donohue.

Making Connections supports about 130 older people with home delivered meals, grocery shopping, pharmacy pick-ups and telephone calls at this time. Older people are referred to the organisation by public health nurses, physiotherapists and other health care professionals.

“Life is fragile but staying connected and feeling supported brings hope to older people. Stopping for a few moments to chat while dropping off meals or groceries is as important as the delivery itself. Some of our volunteers are also walking with older people outdoors, abiding by social distancing rules,” adds O’Donohue. The organisation hopes to re-establish volunteer home visits from July following public health advice.

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