Brian Dalton is the CEO of Irish in Britain, a membership agency representing Irish communities across the country, at local and national level. In recent months, our organisational exchanges have been based on shared advocacy, cultural collaboration and having Irishness understood properly within the context of policy, funding and BAME. On a more personal level, the exchanges have been about sharing concerns, affirming the challenges and being positive with and for one another. Here, Brian sets out Irish in Britain’s Coronavirus responses and hopes for communities in times ahead.
For so many of us, there is a sense of uncertainty as we adjust to new norms and practices in how we live and work. As a voluntary sector organisation, we have an obligation to promote a sense of hope and to imagine a future where our services are needed more than ever. We take comfort in the proud history of community organisations to know and meet the needs of their people and we at Irish in Britain salute the work of our member organisations during the crisis and beyond. Our priority now is to help ensure sustainable futures for these same organisations that made such a difference in keeping us connected and safe during the most trying of times.
Self-care and relatedness, conversation and kinship, the daily routines that keep us healthy and connected are made more difficult now; mental health will, without doubt, be the next public health challenge for providers, for services, for communities.
As an umbrella organisation for 120 Irish clubs, societies and centres across Britain, Irish in Britain has seen first-hand the impact the Coronavirus outbreak has had on the Irish community at large. Given that we have the oldest median age of any community here (53), the crisis has undoubtedly affected us disproportionately and as we mourn those who passed we also celebrate the incredible contribution of Irish organisations and the many Irish people in frontline and NHS care settings.
As a membership body for Irish community organisations, the Covid-19 crisis has meant that we have had to adapt quickly to a new operating environment and find a means to ensure we maintain close working relationships with those in our community.
We have shared fundraising opportunities with trusts, corporate aid and bespoke Covid-19 initiatives with our membership. Both furloughing schemes and the central government grants will support many in the short term, but the future of many organisations will depend on how quickly normal operations can resume.
For cultural organisations and those providing hospitality the social distancing limits upon groups of people will have profound effects on financial planning and resources. Organisations have adapted with incredible creativity, but it is footfall that is the lifeblood for community arts and culture. Patronage, membership, support and fundraising will be vital as organisations plan for a different future and new ways of engaging audiences. Many members will be managing disrupted financing this year as income from venues, community halls and fundraising events are limited because of the emergency.
However, we have been heartened by the sense of joint enterprise and collaboration that the crisis has fostered, and we have had huge engagement with our online forums over the last six months. This includes greater partnership and sharing between cultural organisations where so many of the challenges such as funding shortfalls are common. Though we support many welfare organisations with resources, policy and practice we are acutely aware the role that culture will play in our healing and recovery as we move into a post-Covid world. We will need restoration through our music, our art, our songs and writings. Irish people thrive in the act of the communal; working together to solve common problems, coming together for kinship and the meitheal (team).
There is of course a wider debate now needed about the role of voluntary sector and community organisations to meet the needs of their community. Our value in a crisis is no longer a debating point. The crisis has reminded many, if they needed reminding, that grassroots organisations are best placed to respond and adapt quickly. Our job is to now ensure that the goodwill and sense of community endures and is properly resourced.
If we have learned anything through this it is that community cohesion and development is now a task in which we can all participate – indeed it is our sector that will lead the rebuild and recovery. Irish in Britain has waived membership fees for all its member organisations during the crisis and has extended an invitation to all groups who want to be part of a “coalition for recovery” to join us. We will need all comers to help in the recovery – we all have some capacity, maybe even an obligation, to be community champions now.
Liverpol Irish Festival and Irish in Britain are teaming up in 2020 to deliver a Cultural Connectedness Exchange, on 15 Oct 2020. Click here to book. Ahead of this, read Irish in Britain‘s interview with our Festival Director, Emma Smith, A little light in the gloom.