Stepping up to help the most vulnerable through COVID-19

Stepping up to help the most vulnerable through COVID-19


Bolster Community helps individuals and families get through and get ahead

The pandemic has served a devasting blow for charities across Northern Ireland, many reluctantly, reduced services or closed their doors. Yet charities continue to be a crucial safety net for many.  Demand on services has never been greater. Local community support charity, Bolster Community announced a 70% increase in demand for its services since COVID-19 hit.

Bolster Community (previously known as SPACE NI) is a charity and social enterprise that offers practical support for individuals and families across the Newry and Mourne District. We spoke with Jacinta Linden, CEO of Bolster Community, a charity that despite income challenges, stepped up to help the most vulnerable in our community get back on their feet.

Tell us about Bolster Community

Sometimes we all need a little help and when you do, Bolster Community has your back. We’re a practical, hands-on charity that works alongside individuals, families and communities to help them get through and get ahead.  Over the past 16 years, we’ve had the privilege of helping countless individuals reach their full potential. From early years right through to later years, we support and strengthen people facing life’s tough challenges.

What services do you provide?

Our services are centred around supporting three categories – Family, Ability and Seniors.

Our Family Support Service provides practical and therapeutic support and a range of training programmes for parents and children.  As coordinator of the Newry and Mourne Family Support Hub, we help find solutions for families facing physical and mental health problems, family breakdown, parenting difficulties, financial problems and social and rural isolation.

Our Ability services are dedicated to connecting children and young adults of mixed ability, helping them reach their full potential. We are especially proud of our Social Enterprise, and online gift shop – www.bolstercommunity.org/shop – which provides a safe place for our ‘volunteers’ to feel connected, valued and purposeful. Our products are lovingly handcrafted and all profits go back into supporting vital work.

Signposting and practical support to the older members of the community is delivered through our Seniors services. Comfort Zone is a social group bringing seniors together to make new friends and enjoy some company. Home2Hospital, a driver service for those over 60 that live in rural Mournes and Slieve Gullion, is a lifeline to many.

What have you seen on the ground over COVID-19?

Since the start of the pandemic, the level of need has increased dramatically for everyone.

The anxiety and fear in children are palpable. Parents report heightened anxiety as many children are fearful of returning to school – fearful of infection, social anxiety and worries of having slipped behind during lockdown.

Maintaining routines whilst trying to juggle home working, caring for elderly relatives, home schooling, budgeting and fears of the future has led to increased anxiety in parents.  For a family with a child with additional needs this anxiety is intensified with many feeling abandoned by a system that withdrew education and respite when it was most needed.

Our seniors are living in isolation and fear in what should be their golden years. Some are frightened to leave home and those that do have limited options with many of their social groups and activities being facilitated online or stopped entirely.  COVID-19 has escalated the loneliness and low mood of many in our community.

 How did Bolster Community respond to this 70% increase in demand for your services?

 We are a ‘can do’ team made up of resourceful staff members and dedicated volunteers. We had to rethink delivery of our services while ensuring the safety of our team and participants.  We met families in their gardens, in our centres, via Zoom or by phone and WhatsApp and achieved an astounding 10,000+ contacts over the first six months of COVID-19.

We took 60 children to Narrow Water in the middle of Storm Ellen. Working in pods of 6, we delivered an amazing week of puddle jumping, pony treks, kite-flying and den-building. Parents and children were relieved to reconnect with peers in preparation for returning to school.

Parents of children with a disability told us of their distress at being housebound. So, we organised day trips and commandeered a petting farm, pulling out all the stops to provide an experience to remember.  23 children and their parents attended, for some this was the first time they had enjoyed a day out as a whole family.

Due to the intense isolation and fear experienced by our seniors, they were top of our mind. We made regular “check in and chat” phone calls and delivered food and medication to 130 of the most rural and socially isolated seniors. For others who just needed a little boost, we delivered Kindness Kits filled with home-baking, handmade candles and soaps and other little treats that were good for the soul.

 Now we’re out of lockdown, what support does the community need to get back on their feet?

 We are out of lockdown but not out of the woods. People are impacted by grief, redundancy or loss of income.  Others are struggling with low mood, anxiety and loss of confidence. Families with caring responsibilities need support and some sense of reprieve.

Communities need to be listened to and feel heard. We need a joined-up approach where wellbeing is a valued aspiration for all where a shared vision of a healthy and fulfilled community comes before profit.  We need to be working alongside each other, building on the goodwill and amazing community resolve witnessed throughout COVID-19.

 What does the future hold for Bolster Community – what are your ambitions?

 The future for Bolster Community is bright. As an organisation, we are stretching – we’ve changed our brand name to better reflect our culture and ambitions and we’re moving our premises back into the heart of community.  Our new building will be available early 2021 for community activities and services, helping individuals and families to connect and grow from the heart of the community.

Bolster is an old word, a return to old values where neighbours and community could be depended on to help each other and make things better. That’s exactly what we are committed to doing. In time, Bolster Community will become a household name and I hope you will join us in the next stage of our journey.

 If someone needs help, how do they reach out to you?

If you or a family member need help please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you:

028 3083 5764 or info@bolstercommunity.org

What can the local community do to support Bolster Community?

We’ve been able to weather the COVID-19 storm and be impactful in people’s lives because of the dedication and resourcefulness of our team, our volunteers, our partners and our supporters.

To get involved and help us do more good, please visit the ‘Get Involved’ section of our website here – www.bolstercommunity.org/get-involved or get in touch with us directly: 028 3083 5764 or info@bolstercommunity.org