As we begin a new year, I wanted to pull together and share a few thoughts about how collectively we’ve had an impact and what we’ve achieved together as a community... first some context:
Why did we start Grandpal?
In my early 20’s I was living with my granny Tess in a nice quiet row of bungalows that had originally been built for the Guinness workers in Dublin 8. It was great. She had someone in the house frequently and I was within cycling distance to work. At this stage, Tess had gotten on with age but never lost her ability to light up a room with her big personality and sense of wit.
She had a great carer from the HSE who would come in the mornings to make breakfast and get her out of bed and back in the evenings to make dinner. On top of that, she had six wonderful children who were all very good to her. But still, there were busy weeks and long days that meant that Tess was spending her days all alone. Everybody working or elsewhere caught up with the chores of daily living.
The need for something like Grandpal really resonated with me when I thought about my granny’s situation. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if someone local had the spare time on their hands and genuinely wanted to pop in for a cup of tea and a chat.
We started Grandpal with that simple premise in mind. Could we find local people who genuinely wanted to go and visit an older person in their neighbourhood?
After a year with Grandpal, I can confirm that the nicest people are out there and want to do good in their local communities. In Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow alone, with very limited outreach, over 1000 people have signed up to give an hour of their time each week to visit an older person who would benefit from the one-on-one interaction.
Growing up and being around Dublin 8, there was a real sense of community between the "baby boomers" of their day. Down in the markets getting their fresh fruit and veg, going to their local butcher for different cuts for family dinners and in Tess, my granny’s case, into the fabric store to buy materials to make a dress for one of her clients or a blazer for one of us. People greeted one another by name.
Today, the art of meaningful conversation and connection may well be a dying one. We see factors such as social media, busier lives and a fast-changing society having a big impact on how we interact with each other and how our communities look. It’s only fitting that almost half of our population are experiencing loneliness at one point or another so I ask the question - in this wave of change, how did society drop the ball on its own definition “being in the company of other people”?
No matter if you live in the city centre or in the centre of Offaly, change is inevitable. As you get older, naturally, your community of peers gets smaller and smaller over the years. The ease of getting out and over to visit your friends gets more difficult and social isolation becomes a reality.
As a society, we need to embrace change but we can never forget about the people who might feel left behind. The elderly are specifically vulnerable when it comes to this therefore making it easier for families to take care of their older loved ones seems like the exact thing society needs.
How far we've come
After toying around with the idea of Grandpal for a while, it wasn’t until I met my co-founder, William in 2017 that anything happened. We stayed in touch for almost a year discussing and testing the topic and by August 2018 Grandpal was on a big bold mission to combat old age loneliness.
We started to speak with nursing homes in the early days as they provided us with a safe environment to start making connections happen. Our logic was that there would be nurses and care assistants on hand if anything was to go wrong. It’s been incredible. The nursing homes who’ve embraced Grandpal have brought a new energy into their resident’s lives and communities around them have flourished.
Since getting started we’ve facilitated over 1000 hours of companionship between locals who have the heart to give, and older people living in nursing homes. Time and time again we hear that Grandpal is a two way street and that it’s as important for the Grandpal as it is for their pal.It’s providing people with an outlet to be active in one's community, giving back in the most meaningful way.
Over the past year we’ve really ramped up on the number of Grandpals doing weekly visits. To help support this growth and to ensure we can reach 10 times more older people in 2020, the Grandpal team has now grown from two people to seven people. You can find out more about the Grandpal team on our About Us page.
We’re all in this together. We’re on a mission of empowering local communities to take action and be there driving force of ending loneliness one person at a time.
We’ve got a long way to go but after 2019, we believe anything is possible. In 10 years from now, everyone who needs a Grandpal, will have one. We’re making positive change, one that impacts not just our older members of society but people of all ages and demographics.
A big thanks and shout out to all of our Grandpals who’ve made all the difference to so many people's lives over the past year. We’ve learned so much over the past year and still have so much to learn - but judging by the kind hearted nature of our Grandpals, it’s achievable and will be an enjoyable and rewarding journey for all involved.
Thanks for everything. Over and out.