Author: Daniel Miller, UCL Anthropology.
Fieldsite – Cuan – a town in the east of Ireland.
Prior to Covid-19, my ethnography was one of three fieldsites within the ASSA project that was trying to develop ‘social prescribing’. As part of this exercise, I tried to comprehensively map every single facility and initiative available for older people in this town of 10,000. For this blog post, I have tried to do a much rougher version of the same thing, though based on online evidence, since I am no longer living there. The idea is to have at least some sense of what this community has done, which potentially could be compared with others. My main sources are the Cuan News, the town’s fortnightly news magazine, a daily email briefing and local Facebook groups. I have not discussed initiatives for children, as these are part of one of the other questions.
Please note that I was not able to link to these initiatives due to Cuan being a pseudonym and not the real name of the fieldsite.
Information for older people
There is an abundance of posts and notices that alert older people to the multiple sources of help and information available. They include information and help lines from central government, the county council, The Cuan community association, the national health service, the post office, Age Friendly, the police, ALONE, SeniorLine, Age Action, the Red Cross, Family Carers Ireland and a hardship fund that provides 500 Euros to people in need.
When the pandemic started, the Covid-19 Self-Isolation Cuan Volunteer Group was created, which consists of around 70 Cuan residents and two phone lines, where people can make requests. Volunteers are then allocated to carry out the tasks requested. It started by printing 3,000 leaflets, which were distributed by 20 volunteers to all households in Cuan.
A Facebook group called Cuan against Covid-19 was established on the 15th of March and now has 2,300 members and regular posts.
An agreement has been put in place to retire people over 70 from meals-on-wheels and replace them with younger people.
The Tidy Towns group, which is one of the main community groups in Cuan, has continued asking for help in relation to litter, especially as the problem of disposable gloves littering the areas near the supermarkets grew. There was also a suggestion that people help with an insect count in their gardens.
The Sustainable Cuan group provides pollinator seeds, which are much needed given the increase in home gardening. T
Various initiatives to encourage the townspeople to put candles in windows, as well as participate in weekly cheering and clapping on streets to show support for frontline staff.
The local postmen now also check up on people at home and distribute parcels and letters for free.
There has been encouragement of streets that were not previously connected through digital initiatives to establish street WhatsApp groups and have safe distance ‘meet-ups’ in green spaces.
When annual charity events have been cancelled, alternative ways of raising money to have been found to make up for funding that has been lost due to the pandemic. This includes raising funds for the National Children’s Hospital.
Culture and initiatives
The town will take part in National Poetry Day, which will include displays of favourite poems in windows and shopfronts, as well as submission of poems, an initiative that is widely promoted online in Cuan (where there are a surprising number of published authors and courses in creative writing). There is also a bookshelf on the street where people can give and take books,
The local library is also making ebooks, audiobooks and newspapers available.
Cuan News is publishing relevant poems and stories about how people are coping.
The town is also participating in an Ireland-wide ‘Art in Lockdown’ initiative with new being posted albums daily.
Online tutorials for hair cutting were made available by the local barber and lay practitioners.
There has been a proliferation of ‘covers’ of pop songs posted online, with lyrics adapted to the pandemic, sung by a variety of people ranging from national celebs to local school children.
There is also a weekly Sunday Serenade which includes a one-hour music recital, and replacements for pub music sessions with online equivalents. There is also an abundance of online music lessons, with individual musicians posting videos.
Locals have been doing jigsaws online and the poker club has also set up an online version of its games.
People also take part in a virtual pub quiz, as well as quizzes themed around local history, with questions involving recognising photos taken of obscure places in the town or identifying the individuals from a historical photo of a town rugby team.
There is a lot of information about free cultural events on TV, such as plays from the London Globe Theatre.
A photo competition for the most glammed-up person taking their bin to the house front for collection was also initiated.
Tips, suggestions and medical initiatives
The local pharmacy offers a service where one can phone in or email prescription requests.
Cuan News also publishes tips on and what people are reading and doing etc to pass the time.
The Cuan against Covid-19 Facebook group publishes tips such as how to make a protective mask from a plastic file holder, tips on jewellery making, scone baking and many others.
Many posts of medical information, ranging from debunking rumours to a film of a four-year-old child struggling with the virus, are being shared online. Many posts are also encouraging conformity to social distancing such as the memes presented in my last contribution. [link here]
Locally, there are five different online Yoga classes and one Pilates class, some free and some to be paid for. There are also home exercise classes and a mental fitness class.
Religion and funerals
Cuan News has offered to publish the eulogies that would have been spoken at funerals and issued an appeal for people to come out and acknowledge funerals as they pass by.
The church offers a 24/7 webcam in the church so that people can follow mass and other services and has organised a virtual pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Knock. Prayer and religious teaching are also done through webcam and radio.
Retail and food
An agreement by all Cuan pubs to cease trading at exactly the same time happened prior to the legal enforcement date.
A local chef started a non-profit supply of cooked meals. The initiative received 600 orders on their first day of operation. Almost every restaurant provided a takeaway and delivery service with menus available online.
Supermarkets provide a specific time window (an hour) dedicated to elderly people only. Home delivery services are also available, including ready to heat/cook meals.
The local launderette offers free collection and delivery.
Cuan is a largely middle-class town where many people worked in education, health and the civil service. The town presents itself as an ideal community in many respects and this listing shows why the claim may have some validity. What happens in private, of course, may be a different story. Publicly there is a strong commitment to community and welfare and a belief that people will keep an eye out for each other. When I first arrived to start my ethnography, everyone was telling me the same story about how almost the entire town once came out to search for some missing people. The town always excels in the national Tidy Town competition which is taken very seriously in Ireland. It is, therefore, no surprise that the virus is seen as an opportunity for the town to constantly publish and share news about what it is doing as a community in response. There is a small area of social housing whose residents have lower incomes. Their postings were more concentrated upon directly conveying important, often health-related, information and a greater emphasis on looking after children.