Alan O’Riordan receiving the award on behlaf of Friendly Phones from Eoghan Murphy, Deputy General Manager of Cork International Hotel. Photo Siobhán Russell

‘l love helping out’

A peer to peer support for the participants on Cope Foundation’s Ability@Work programme has been awarded for the great work it did during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Ability@Work’s Friendly Phones service is the latest winner of the Cork International Hotel Community Spirit Award. The programme provides work preparation training and employment opportunities for young people with intellectual disabilities and or autism.

Three of the Ability@Work participants were selected to volunteer for Friendly Phones. They received training and support from Cope Foundation to enable them to provide a confidential and professional service. All volunteers received help and guidance around mobile phone etiquette and emergency procedures. They were also trained to document each individual call and to highlight any issues that may arise.

Alan O’Riordan is one of the Friendly Phones volunteers. He said: “At first, I called them on Mondays to Fridays. l called them, texted them if they were not up for a call, video called them and made games for them when they were bored. When I tell them ‘see you next week’, l say, ‘name four things you are going to do this week’. I don't really see it as helping, l see it as something I want to do all the time.

“l am who l am and that's fine, we should all be there for one another through tough times. We are all strong in our own way. Friendly Phones did that for me. l loved the responsibility of talking to my friends and getting them through the hard lockdowns. Before Friendly Phones l did not know any of them, but now l can say they are my friends. l love it as everyone who knows me knows l love helping out. I know them so well now and they know me. I have gotten as much out of it as they have.”

Moira Crowley’s son Fergal received Friendly Phones calls from Alan. She said: “Fergal found the lockdown very difficult. His day service was closed and he was very isolated. He signed up to Friendly Phones and was matched with Alan. It was such a great idea. At first I didn’t think Fergal would take to it because he likes to be able to see people’s faces but he really bonded with Alan. Alan adapted the Friendly Phones and changed the calls to video calls to suit Fergal. Alan not only supported Fergal through a very difficult time in his life, but he helped him come out of his shell completely. It really improved his social skills, he was able to open up to Alan. I couldn’t believe it! A total stranger became such a close friend in no time at all. They are great friends now even though they have never met in person. That’s down to Alan’s gentle and kind nature. They are hoping to meet up for dinner when all of the Covid restrictions end.”S

Nominations are open