Margaret a champion of older people

COOKSTOWN woman Margaret Gilbert MBE is a champion of older people, and to recognise her invaluable contribution to this section of society, she has received the Mid-Ulster Mail’s Person To Be Proud Of award for 2011.

The only founder member of Age Concern Cookstown still remaining, Margaret has seen the organisation, now known as o4o, flourish over the years, providing much-needed services to older people in the community.

And this week, having beaten off stiff competition from other nominees in the competition, she was presented with her accolade during Monday’s luncheon club at the Oldtown Inn premises.

Margaret took time out from her busy schedule to speak to the MAIL about her work with o4o since its inception.

“Age Concern Cookstown came about after Ted Giboney, the public health inspector at the time, called a meeting which I went along to. I ended up as vice-chair and I suppose that was when my work started,” she explained.

“We got the charity shop together in the hope that it might make some money which could be used to improve the services. The girls from Holy Trinity also gave us a donation of £100 and we were delighted with it. And with the money from the old NIVT (now the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland) we got the luncheon club up and running,” she said.

From 1998, Age Concern Cookstown blossomed with vital assistance from development manager Elaine McDowell.

“She really made us hum. She got classes going and she got the Monday Club up and running as well as the Good Morning Scheme which has been instrumental in saving lives, I suppose,” she said, alluding to a worker having found an elderly man lying with a broken femur.

The classes, arts and crafts, knitting, crocheting, pottery and painting, allow older people to socialise and learn new skills in a friendly environment. And on a Wednesday, they can get out and about with the Walking Club. Even on a day involving inclement weather, bus driver Charlie McGuckin will take the older people on a drive to avoid disappointment.

The aluminium can recycling scheme has also provided a constant stream of income to support the provision of the services over the years.

One of o4o’s vital services, Margaret explained, is the luncheon club which serves up around fifty meals daily, over half of them being table service at the Oldtown Inn premises. The club also provides easily re-heated meals for the older people to take away if they choose. Around 60 meals are cooked on a Saturday, which ensures a hot meal at the weekend.

The vegetables are produced in o4o’s own garden which is home to onions, peas and turnip.

“Last year we had ‘pea-itis’ from shelling and we had almost 100lbs of peas, but we made sure we used them all,” Margaret laughed.

A typical dinner at the luncheon club will consist of a chicken casserole, or liver and bacon with potatoes and two vegetable choices as well as tea and coffee and a delicious, mouth-watering dessert.

“We have a great cook in the kitchen and all diets are catered for, including vegetarian, coeliac, diabetic and low salt. If they come along they can enjoy great company and craic and a nutritious, freshly cooked meal.

“We like to see people get out and meet others. I want people who are reading this, sitting at home on their own to come to the luncheon club. They can cut down on heating their homes and cut down on electricity.

“If you sit in the house, you will blue mould and I want those older people to get out and interact. When you are out and about your health is better and that’s been proven,” added Margaret.

“We asked some of them what they ate during the day and most of them said they started off with cereal and tea and that they would only have a cup of tea and toast in the evening,” explained Margaret. “At the luncheon club, they’re getting a good meal.”

And she added: “The chitter from them is nothing ordinary! I love to get them talking!”

Margaret spent 25 years as a nursing officer with St John Ambulance. She trained in the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow and then went to work in the City Hospital, Belfast and the Jubilee. She completed a threatre course which she enjoyed. Margaret also travelled to Australia with the Young Farmers.

She received her MBE in January 2010 for services to older people.

Margaret added that she wanted to thank the Mid-Ulster Mail for the accolade.