Eighty-six-year-old Thomas Harte, who lives alone in Ramelton, County Donegal, looks forward immensely to his weekly visit from retired teacher, Joe Harkin.
The pair met through the county’s Friendly Face Befriending Service, which currently provides one-to-one weekly visits to approximately 60 older people across the county.
“Oh, we talk about football and politics, there’s so much happening that there’s plenty to chat about. It’s very nice of him to call,” explains Thomas.
The service was supported by a €45,000 grant through National Lottery funding for good causes, which enabled it to expand from its Inishowen base into the Lifford/Castlefinn and Milford/Rosguill/Fanad areas in 2016.
This good cause is an offshoot of the hugely successful Good Morning Support Service, which has been running for the past 11 years and currently has 90 volunteers making over 1,000 phone calls a week to 310 older people living alone in County Donegal.
The Friendly Face scheme takes referrals from health care professionals, community organisations, and from family and friends, connecting volunteers with people in their own homes, nursing homes and sheltered housing, through one-to-one weekly visits.
Volunteers participate in comprehensive training and have Garda Clearance before they are matched with a client.
Such is the demand, that the number of referrals has had to be capped and a waiting list put in place which currently stands at 100.
“The need out there is huge,” explains Frances, Browne, manager of the umbrella Good Morning Support Service.
“People look forward so much to the visit and it can have a really positive impact on their physical health.
“It is working out brilliantly but we currently do not have enough volunteers to meet the need. We also have to fundraise constantly to keep these vital services up and running,” she said.
Both projects received pilot funding from the cross-border body, Co-operation and Working Together (CAWT).
Approximately 30 cent of every €1 spent on National Lottery games go back to funding for Good Causes in the areas of sport, youth, health, welfare, education, arts and heritage. In total, more than €5 Billion has been raised for Good Causes since the National Lottery was established 30 years ago. In 2016 alone, the National Lottery raised over €210 million for such good causes.