As Coronavirus swept the globe and organisations planned what their next steps would be, a new Liverpool network of Irish service providers emegered called CARA.

Spearhaded by colleagues at Irish Community Care, numerous organisations came together to reach in to communities to make sure we and they were networked, supported and heard. The exchanges this network developed revealed opportunities to share skills, enormous compassion and friendship across the region. It has been exemplary and shows what can be achieved when we really communicate ideas with one another and collaborate.

CARA: Irish Communties Together

CARA, the Irish word for friend. What happens when friends all across the North West join together with an aim to keep their communities safe, well and connected during Covid-19? The answer, CARA: Irish Communities Together.

The CARA programme has brought Irish community groups throughout the North West, including GAA clubs, academics, Irish community centres, festivals, music clubs and more to join forces and help their communities through Covid-19. The journey that lay ahead for all CARA partners was unknown, these were and remain unprecedented times. However, this did not phase an enthusiastic and passionate bunch of partners and volunteers, who knew many people within their communities would need a helping hand and a listening ear.

The programme set its sights on helping all community members, whether this was collecting prescriptions, shopping for groceries, or having a friendly chat over the phone with a likeminded volunteer.

CARA sought to recruit a team of volunteers to help with the tasks ahead and were blown away by the response they received! Volunteers came from all around, all ages, locations, interests and most importantly a shared aim; keeping their communities safe, well and connected.

The CARA programme has -to date- recruited over 70 volunteers, who are continuing to engage in weekly conversations or lively debates depending on the topic of conversation! Volunteers have also organised and delivered weekly shopping and prescriptions for over 45 isolated community members. The CARA programme didn’t stop at just local community support, but reached further to work with prisons across the North West. Phone credit, stamped postcards and reading material were supplied to 140 Irish community members in prison.

CARA monthly newsletter reaches over 1,000 homes across the North West and many more online. Each newsletter is jam-packed with stories, updates, quizzes and important announcements. CARA partners have even managed to take the newsletter articles and turn them into an audio letter! Irish communities can listen to the newsletter articles at any time on social media, a fantastic way to experience the stories coming to life. If you would like to receive the CARA: Irish Communities Together newsletter, contact [email protected]; +44 (0)151 237 3987 or follow us on social media: @IrishCommCare.

A recipient of the CARA monthly newsletter got in touch to share her joy at learning new digital skills during the Covid-19 lockdown, a tale involving an iPad, weekly Mass and a bit of luck!

‘Blessed is the iPad’

Bridie, from Cork, is a regular churchgoer who has missed attending weekly Mass since Covid-19 came along. She has lived in England for over 60 years and has a grown-up family, grandchildren and great grandchildren and was missing them even more. She was introduced to an iPad -bought by her family- and at first she thought she’d never get the hang of it! She persevered with telephone support from family members. Not a one to give up, she surprised herself and -not without a struggle- she discovered the magic of Google search engine. Well, with regular use for a few hours each day, Bridie is now attending Mass in every county of Ireland – you can imagine her delight. Bridie says if she types “live Mass in Ireland” or “RTE live Mass” into Google it gives her details of churches all over Ireland; you can take your pick of the priests!

This has given her great comfort, remembering too all the hymns she sang as a child growing up in Ireland. Bridie is delighted to be learning new skills, with all that new language. Some days she can’t quite work her magic and other days she amazes herself and is often not sure how that happened! She regularly thinks “What did I press to get this information and will I find it again” She’s a devoted fan of Joe Dolan and you can find her singing and dancing round her kitchen to his music on her iPad. She is proud to be digitally included and still flying the flag at 82 years young!

The impact of the CARA project is felt far and wide, from learning new digital skills to creating lasting friendships over the phone or during doorstep shopping deliveries.

A huge word of thanks to all CARA: Irish Community Together partners; Brian Boru Club in Wigan, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, GAA (John Mitchels and Wolfe Tones), Institute of Irish Studies at University of Liverpool, Irish Community Care, Irish Community Care Manchester, Liverpool Irish Centre, Liverpool Irish Festival, Mersey Harps and Shenanigans – their dedication to the welfare and empowerment of Irish communities is unwavering.

A note of thanks to all CARA volunteers and supporters, without your hard work, goodwill and compassion it would not have been possible to achieve the amazing community network that continues to grow. We are indebted to the many GAA teams across the North West for the tremendous support they have given to CARA and our communities since Covid-19. As well as volunteering their time to help the most vulnerable –from completing shopping tasks, collecting prescriptions to making befriending calls- they also found time to put on their running shoes! St. Peters GAC, Liverpool Wolfe Tones GAA and St. Lawrence’s GAA organised a sponsored ‘Virtual Run’ competition over the 2020 May Bank Holiday weekend. 80 runners took part, collectively running over 1300 miles. Members of Liverpool John Mitchels GAA organised a very successful July Sports Day. Collectively the teams raised over £3000 for CARA, what a fantastic achievement!

We extend our sincere thanks to our funders the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, Covid-19 Response Fund and the UK Government’s Coronavirus Community Support Fund (distributed by the National Lottery Community Fund). This support has enabled CARA to grow and develop and continue delivering services until early next year. We look forward to sharing exciting plans in the months ahead. If you would like to get involved as a volunteer or know someone who is isolated or likely to need a bit more support during the coming months, please help spread the word to them or contact us directly on +44 (0)151 237 3987 or [email protected] for further information.