Touchstone celebrated by the ILAS

To coincide with the local and national launch of Touchstone, on Wednesday, September 16th, 2015, the ILAS staged a speaker series and forum fair consisting of over 30 different local and national organisations to celebrate Touchstone’s ongoing work with people aged 55 and over, using this unique opportunity to develop awareness about the organisation’s activities and to recruit volunteers through discussion and showcase of similar organisations’ work.

Touchstone is a national programme aiming to develop the skills and knowledge of people aged 55 and over who wish to play a part in helping to make their communities more age-friendly. It promotes and supports civic engagement, and was developed by a team based at the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology, NUI Galway, in partnership with Active Retirement Ireland, Age & Opportunity and Third Age.

A particular focus for the day was the first 50 participants of the Touchstone programme, participants who had just completed the aforementioned programme in Galway and received their awards at the Celebration Event, the day’s unique selling point being that it was the members of the first successfully participating cohort that featured during the speaker series to share their experiences first-hand. Presentations included Ger Hassett’s Views on the Over-55s’ Fitness Classes in Headford, Carmel Geoghegan’s Living with Dementia in the West of Ireland, and The Need for Pre-retirement Planning by Tony Finnerty.

The event was opened by Professor Tom Scharf, Professor of Social Gerontology and Director of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway, Ireland responsible for and directly involved in leading the first Touchstone programme, and attended by a further 150 people aged 55 and over interested in becoming engaged in civic activities attended the Celebration Event, along with national and local stakeholders interested in promoting and supporting civic engagement activities in Galway city and county.

Now reflecting on the event, standing out quite prominently throughout the day was the enthusiastic approach and dynamism shown towards what the day itself stood for – what Touchstone stands for – regardless of age and/or outlook, and this was reflected by the hub and buzz of interaction that was the forum fair following the speaker series, with interactive displays ranging from SAGE to Rock Against Dementia Galway 2015, and so many more.

It was also interesting to note, both from conversation with Dr Kieran Walsh, co-author of Ageing Through Austerity by Walsh, Carney and Ni Léime, and with Touchstone members present who do not wish to be named, that ageing is not something that has been affected as dramatically as one might think by Ireland’s recent period of relevant austerity; in reality, our ageing population faces challenges and issues very similar to those of previous generations – namely maintaining activity levels, interacting with a different and rapidly-developing world, and remaining involved socially within the local community – all challenges and issues that Touchstone and events like this strive to tackle head-on.

Long may they continue to do so.