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9-ST-MUNGO'S

The little charity taking on the Goliath of loneliness

St Mungo’s Old Folks’ Centre, RYAN MCDOUGALL finds, is making a big difference despite a lack of funding — By RYAN MCDOUGALL

Nestled among the busy environment of Glasgow’s Townhead area, elderly members of the city’s community gather together daily and join in the spirit of ‘food, fun and friendship.’ For 55 years, the St Mungo’s Old Folks’ Centre for Wellbeing has provided a stellar service to older people living in Glasgow’s communities—individuals who are often left alone or widowed. The Old Folks’ Centre provides a place where members can come to spend time with their friends, tuck in to a good meal for a small fee, and take part in a number of leisurely activities.

In recent years, however, the Old Folks’ Centre has struggled to stay afloat due to funding issues, as larger charities have raked in the support. Now, the Glasgow charity that offers support to the elderly is urging people to back smaller charities who are in need.

Gerry Healy, a retired headteacher and the treasurer for the charity, has stressed the importance in supporting not only the Old Folks’ Centre and the work it carries out, but also other small charities.

“The thing is, people might not pay much attention to a smaller charity at the time,” he said. “But once it’s gone, p­eople might look back on it a few years later and think ‘oh, do you remember that charity? They were good. Whatever happened to them?’

“But by then it’s too little, too late. It’s great to support bigger charities, but in the process smaller ones are being left behind.

“The danger of this is that one day we’re going to realise: we can’t do this anymore.”

The charity is currently regulated by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, and in the last five years—aside from 2015—their income has been lower than their expenditure. Mr Healy said the despite the fact that the Old Folks’ Centre receives funding from various trusts, unfortunately further support is needed in order to ensure that the members of St Mungo’s still have a place they can visit: to meet, have lunch, play bingo and take part in keep-fit. Mr Healy claims the charity never reach £100,000 per annum.

He also added that charities that give support to the elderly are often forgotten about altogether. “The culture of funding has changed,” he explained. “When you’re starting something new, funders want to get into it but often when they see the people are old and established, they lose interest.

“When we began we didn’t need a lot of funding. About half of it came from the city council, and the other half came from trust funds.”

He also said that their funding this year from Glasgow City Council is uncertain and that a recent application sent to a trust was unsuccessful, adding that they ‘obviously didn’t tick all the right boxes, which is a skill in itself’.

As well as this, the charity hopes to obtain a much-needed boost in cash, in order to help them expand on what St Mungo’s currently offers to its members, including support for those who are dealing with different metal health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

“We’re still using the same equipment we had 40 years ago, this could be improved if we had more money,” Mr Healy stressed.

As it stands, members are at present charged just £4 to come to the club, which covers their meals and leisure, although Mr Healy explained that it has been suggested by others that they raise this rate to as high as £15. This advice, he said, is something that St Mungo’s would never take.

This week, the Church in Scotland’s Parliamentary Office called on Catholics to contribute to a Scottish Government consultation on tackling loneliness.

Figures from Age Scotland found that around 60,000 people over the age of 65 have no one to spend Christmas Day with—an increase of 20,000 since 2015. Bishop John Keenan of Paisley Diocese urged people to make even a small gesture of goodwill to neighbours in order to fight the statistics.

“Even if you just popped round with a wee box of chocs to your neighbour who’s alone on Christmas Day,” he said. “It might be all it takes to make their Christmas and get this awful figure down.”

It is this epidemic of loneliness that st Mungo’s is helping to fight.

The spirit of friendship and care embodies the St Mungo’s Old Folks’ Centre—even from its inception. A Glasgow priest, Fr John Mary Griffin, was inspired to take action after he became friendly with an elderly man that he met in a cafe, and ultimately went on to found the charity.

This elderly gentleman had sadly lost his wife, and spent much of his day in the same cafe (owned, interestingly, by the grandfather of the current Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia).

Initially named the St Mungo’s Old Folks’ Club, its original membership exceeded 800 people, but today stands at around a tenth of that figure. However, Mr Healy noted that despite the decline, the centre continues to ­provide a good service to a large number of people—some of whom visit there every day.

“I suppose the crux of it is that people are no longer considered old at 60, 70, and sometimes even 80,” he said. “People at 60 are still working, looking after grandkids, going on holiday and such.”

He referred to the bigger charities as Goliath, and smaller ones as David, explaining that ‘all the balls are in Goliath’s court.”

He kindly appealed that people try and help the centre in any way, so that it may carry on striving to help the lonely.

 

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