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Erica Long, staff member at Obair Newmarket On Fergus, preparing meals to be distributed to the elderly and people in sheltered accommodation in the Clare area. Photograph by John Kelly

Obair steps up the work to serve Clare communities

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OBAIR, Newmarket-on-Fergus’ very popular Meals on Wheels service, has increased its output five fold since the onset of Covid-19, going from 50 meals a day, five days a week to now providing 250 meals on average per day, seven days a week.
“That required a lot of reorganising,” said Siobhan O’Connell, community development officer and acting manager.
“Covid had a huge impact on this part of our business. The elderly were so vulnerable at the outset of Covid that we simply had to expand to ensure that everyone got a hot meal every day.
“We had to close our thriving coffee shop and move staff over to Meals on Wheels. We were indebted to the many chefs who volunteered to lend a hand at the outset and within two weeks we had everything running smoothly.
“However, we had to start taking orders and payments over the phone and leave food at our customers’ doors, but everyone adjusted.”
She said they now want to develop an app to help with the increased demand.
“This prompted us to look at how we could improve our offering, to give people a meal choice. As we can’t talk to 250 people every day, we decided to develop an app to allow people to choose what they want to eat.
“This is currently at development stage and while it is being supported by a philanthropist and Clare Local Development Company (CLDC), we have also entered it into the Ignite Social Enterprise Awards as we feel it is an app that, once trialled here in Clare, could be rolled out nationwide.
“We will also train the elderly in how to use the technology given that many of the over 65s are not digitally engaged. It’s a very exciting project, and the future,” adds Siobhan.
She also said its childcare service is very busy.
“Our community crèche, which was very much our genesis and started out with a manager and an administrator, now involves 20 staff providing childcare services to between 80 and 120 children, ranging in age from babies to after-school.
“The crèche is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm offering many options to parents, from full day to part-time care services. It also offers an after-school club to supervise homework, which is followed by play time and a hot dinner.”
Funding from many sources, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the Tomar Trust and the LEADER programme, has breathed new life into Obair’s work and presence in Newmarket-on-Fergus enabling it to expand from its original premises to now also operate from the Tradaree Social Food Enterprise on Main Street.
An investment of €1.2 million into renovating this building, formerly the Tradaree Arms Pub and Restaurant, has resulted in it now housing four micro food development hubs for start-up food enterprises, a state-of-the-art training facility with 16 stations and a fully serviced kitchen to facilitate interactive training, an holistic hub to accommodate counselling services, meditation and yoga, addiction rehabilitation a family resource centre, and a youth drop-in centre, overseen by a youth worker, which Obair is in the process of recruiting.
The building also has a modern food production kitchen which is now used for the South Clare Meals on Wheels service, a service that has expanded its reach to now include providing 45 meals to homeless accommodation, 80 meals to Newmarket-on-Fergus after schools and Ballycar school meals every day.
Obair welcomes the support of volunteers, particularly drivers, and anyone interested can go to  www.obair.org/services/volunteer and download a volunteer application form.

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