Monkstown group providing lifeline for local community

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A recently-formed group is helping to reduce loneliness and create friendships in Newtownabbey.

The Monkstown Over 50s Group, established in February, has been helping people interact again following the pandemic as well providing a support network for residents during the ‘cost of living crisis’ and other issues affecting them.

Led by members of the Monkstown Community Association, the group has dozens of residents, aged from their 50s up to 90s, attending every week.

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The group meets in Monkstown’s Jubilee Centre, with meetings set to resume following refurbishment works at the Cashel Drive facility.

Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Cllr Mark Cooper, joined with members of Monkstown Over 50s Group as they showcased their portrait of King Charles III at the Coronation Garden at Hazelbank Park. (Contributed).Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Cllr Mark Cooper, joined with members of Monkstown Over 50s Group as they showcased their portrait of King Charles III at the Coronation Garden at Hazelbank Park. (Contributed).
Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Cllr Mark Cooper, joined with members of Monkstown Over 50s Group as they showcased their portrait of King Charles III at the Coronation Garden at Hazelbank Park. (Contributed).

They bring together support agencies such as Community Advice, Make the Call and PSNI officers. They receive funding from Clanmill Housing Association.

Lead volunteer Clare Patterson explained: “A lot of people felt isolated after the Covid-19 pandemic. Current Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Cllr Mark Cooper, himself a member of the association, came up with the idea of forming the group.

"We started with an over 50s brunch. It was informal and gave people the opportunity to have a chat and make friends over a cup of tea.

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"The group continued to meet and on our quietest week we’d have 55 people attending. There are people coming from Rathcoole, Rathfern, Glengormley, Carnmoney and Ballyduff, as well as residents from Monkstown.

"We organise activities such as bingo and have wee prizes like boxes of chocolates or pamper hampers.

“Each week we’ve representatives from various agencies coming to speak to our members. We’ve had the police talking about issues such as home security and the representatives from Housing Executive have been in to explain about how to heat your home while saving money.

"When we return, there will be new kitchen facilities at the centre and we’ll be able to provide warm comforting meals such as soup and stew in the winter months.”

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Recently, members of the group undertook one of their biggest projects to date, creating a portrait of King Charles III, which was showcased at the Coronation Garden at Hazelbank.

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Clare added: “Following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla, the group wanted to do something to mark the occasion.

"We’d members working each week with the tissue art to create the portrait. Everyone enjoyed doing it and we were over the moon with the finished project. It took our members 90 minutes each week over an eight-week period to create the artwork. No one had an artistic background, but they’re already looking forward to our next project.

"A lot of the people coming didn’t know each other, but it’s brought them together and friendships have been formed. We’d like to thank the council and everyone who has backed us. Older residents are sometimes forgotten about. We’re glad to be supporting them.”

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Mayor, Cllr Mark Cooper stated: "I’m delighted and extremely proud of this group who have achieved so much in a short space of time.

"The portrait of His Majesty the King is a great example of the teamwork and relationships already formed and highlights the importance of bringing our communities together. Socialising is vital for our mental health and helps to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

"This group offers support, a warm welcome and friendship."

For more information, check out the Monkstown Community Association Facebook page.