Ireland’s rapidly-ageing population means the services offered by the charity Alone have become more vital than ever as it celebrates 40 years in existence, according to chief executive Sean Moynihan.
From humble beginnings helping a handful of pensioners living in squalid conditions in Dublin’s inner-city in the 1970s, the elderly support organisation now offers nationwide assistance and social inclusion services through its network of 30 employees and 600 community volunteers.
Although the current operation has come some way from the nascent network established by celebrated Dublin humanitarian and fireman Willie Bermingham in 1977, Mr Moynihan says the ethos remains the same.
“How we operate has probably changed and some of the challenges we face has changed slightly, but ultimately what we try and keep alive from the ’70s is the ethos to be effective and compassionate, to support and care for people.”
The absence of a dedicated State agency dealing specifically with the elderly means the resultant slack must be picked up by those in the community and voluntary sector.
Alone aims to act as a tie-in to multiple social services after an isolated individual makes initial contact or is referred for help. Mr Moynihan gives the example of a recently bereaved widower from Cavan for whom the charity was able to open up a “world of supports”.
“We went out and the man had been bereaved, his wife had died 18 months before that. He couldn’t operate the heating system so he was cold and his house was damp and he was struggling.
“At the same time he had some legal issues so we had to go down to the Free Legal Aid Centre with him. On top of that we discovered he had literacy issues so he couldn’t understand anybody who was working with him so he was getting quite angry and frustrated.”
Through Alone the man in question received an assessment for occupation therapy, was introduced to a local social inclusion service and his heating was fixed.
His story represents just one of many the organisation and its volunteers encounter on a daily basis, according to Mr Moynihan.
As with other similar bodies across the sector, Alone struggled through the recent economic recession.
Moynihan came into the job just days before the collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank which would act as a harbinger for the global economic disarray that was to follow, and he soon realised that Alone could only sustain and grow its activities by recruiting more volunteers.
The number of volunteers increased from 45 to 600 over the intervening period. And this greater reach will be imperative to achieving goals for an organisation whose key demographic has increased three-fold over the last two decades.
“We’re living longer . . . The numbers coming to us are constantly going up,” he says.
Looking to a future beyond the organisation’s 40th anniversary Mr Moynihan says a focus will be to move elderly people from large isolated properties to smaller, more manageable houses located within local communities rather than directly into the dependent setting of nursing homes and State care.