The newly refurbished Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre (RICC) on Thorncastle Street would normally be a bustling hub of activity.
Visitors might expect the sounds of local group meetings, a creche and drop-in clinics echoing off its walls.
But when the government announced widespread closures of schools on 12 March due to Covid-19, Lorraine Barry, manager of RICC, knew that they would have to radically alter how they do business.
She called a snap team meeting with her staff. They looked through the events planned in their newsletters, to see what services – like bingo, and arts and crafts – they could repurpose for the community.
“We were going back to basics and trying to think about what people like to do,” she says.
So far, the centre has hosted – with current restrictions in mind – balcony bingo, a karaoke night, and organised a food-delivery service for the elderly and vulnerable in partnership with Avalon Leasing, an airline leasing company and The Bridge Café.
Their latest initiative? A digital mobile library.
A New, Library, Sort Of
On 6 April, through a Facebook post, staff at RICC invited community members to choose books from pictures uploaded to the site. That was the library launch.
Bestsellers such as John Green’s Paper Towns, About A Boy by Nick Hornby and Normal People by Sally Rooney are on offer, alongside piles of historical fiction, cooking books, and children’s stories.
At first, they weren’t sure if the idea would be popular, says Emer Simmons, a community service programme manager at the centre. But locals latched on and quickly began offering donations.
“We got loads of donations of really good books, kids’ books especially which is great,” she says.
Even in an age of ebooks, hard copies are still needed, she says. “Not everyone has access to the internet and you have to pay for a lot of them so this is just a simple initiative.”
Residents can browse titles, updated regularly, then send a direct message to the page if something piques their interest. The community centre will then arrange to deliver it.
“It’s all about choice, and reaching out to people who have a passion for reading and maybe introducing someone that happens to have the time to give it a go,” says Lorraine Barry, the community centre manager.
It also fills the gap for those missing their public library, which are not accessible at the moment, she says. For Barry, reading is important as it “takes you away to another space”.
Reading a book also gives people a break from the madness of social media, says Simmons. “People often say that they don’t have time to read a book, well this is a perfect time.”
It’s a way to keep kids occupied and learning too, she says. “And you can relax and you’re not worrying about your battery dying.”
Keeping People At The Door
Most of the staff at the RICC have seen their day-to-day work change drastically. Some run deliveries, dropping food, medicine and books to vulnerable members of the community.
Dave Donnelly, who works with locals in the area as a Tús team leader, can be seen most days driving around Ringsend and Irishtown doing collections and deliveries in his white Ford Transit van.
Reading isn’t really his thing, he says. “I wouldn’t be into stories now, I’d lose me way, if I can’t finish it in two or three days I won’t do it.”
It’s the checking in with those who are living alone or elderly people, afraid to leave their homes at the moment, that he sees as so important, he says.
“People are lonesome now,” says Derek Murphy, the chair of the Active Retirement Association in Ringsend, who would in normal times have up to 40 people in one meeting at the RICC on Tuesdays.
Murphy helps the RICC by giving them the names and addresses of vulnerable people so they can get what they need delivered.
“The people will always have a quick couple of words with you, and lift you a little bit, some of these people don’t see anyone from the end of the day to the other,” he says.
Says Donnelly: “It’s to get people coming to their door and seeing their neighbours again, and with the reading as well, if you are just sitting in and not using your brain it goes to mush, you start overthinking things.”
People can either leave the books outside by the door or on their windowsill, he says. All of the books are sanitised before they’re handed over.
The community centre is currently running on reduced hours, says Donnelly. But “if anybody wants a book after 3 o’clock or over the weekend they can ring me and I’ll go and get the book and deliver it to them.”
Says Barry: “At this stage, it doesn’t matter what time of the day or night, if something needs to get done it just gets done.”
For now, the mobile library will operate online, but staff are hopeful that it will continue after the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are lifted.
They’ve gone from about 20 to 30 books last Wednesday to hundreds this week, says Donnelly.
Books that don’t get picked up, especially the children’s stories, will be donated to the local creche in the community centre.
“I didn’t know how we were going to do this when we sat in that team meeting,” says Barry. “But the way it worked out has been brilliant. It’s really been fantastic.”