How SVP fights devastating effects of loneliness
Before becoming a regular at her local St Vincent de Paul (SVP) centre, 88-year-old Grainne Connaughton spent all day, every day in her sitting room.
While living on her own, the Galway native said she became desperately lonely and had no interaction with her community.
"About 10 years ago I was very ill and my only contact with the outside world was when a district nurse came to visit me," she remembers.
"She noticed I was doing nothing but sitting in the corner of the room all day by myself. It was a very lonely and isolated life. "My nurse knew it was having a negative effect on me so one day she said: 'Grainne, you have to get out of that corner'."
That was the same day that Ms Connaughton heard about the Croí na Gaillimhe Resource Centre in Galway.
"I really didn't know what to expect and was a bit nervous going on my own.
"But from the moment I walked through their doors, my life completely changed."
After enjoying the centre's fortnightly dinners, Ms Connaughton soon joined the social club and signed up for computer and relaxation classes.
"I'm here 10 years and never miss a week. Coming here really makes me feel I belong," she says.
She is just one of the 300 people of all ages who take part in programmes at the busy SVP centre each week.
The service, which opened in 2009, started out providing programmes for older people. It soon grew to include a homework club for children in direct provision, computer and mental health classes, a social club for men, and English language classes for migrants.
While SVP strives to combat social isolation, there are still thousands of senior citizens disconnected from society. And Loretta Needham, manager of Croí na Gaillimhe, said Christmas can be a particularly hard time for elderly people living alone.
"Many people are now living in Australia or America and can't make it back for the holidays to visit their elderly relatives.
"A lot of senior citizens also don't know how to use Skype and have no means of contacting their families .
"Loneliness and lack of social interaction is a very dangerous thing. It can lead to depression and many other negative health outcomes," she said.
Ms Needham said the centre's lunches provide much more than an affordable meal as they help to link people and develop a "nurturing community".
Croí na Gaillimhe was funded through the legacy of Galway publican Maureen O'Connell.
However, the centre's future is in jeopardy as its funding stream finishes at the end 2018.
"It's in a danger of closing down if we don't get the funding," added Ms Needham.
To find out how to donate to the Croí na Gaillimhe centre visit www.croinagaillimhe.ie