It was a brave person who would have dared use the term ‘old people’ at the tenth birthday celebration of the Citizens of Senior Years (COSY) Club at the City Hotel on Tuesday morning.
If you were looking for a sedate gathering of pensioners, you were in the wrong place. Instead, the members of the COSY club did what they do to every place they encounter, they brought what might have been an otherwise quiet conference room to life.
On Tuesday, the group celebrated ten years in existence. It began after the death of an elderly person who had lived alone in the Ballymagroarty area had gone unnoticed. This story of complete and utter isolation in the heart of anotherwise busy community, prompted then Sinn Fein Councillor Billy Page, Father Chris Ferguson, and Stephen Harkin, then with the Ballymagroarty Hazelbank Community Partnership, to bring together a group which would never allow that situation to happen again.
Ten years later and the achievements of the COSY club are remarkable. Under chairperson Rose McCormick and in recent years the presence of Development Officer Geraldine Fitzpatrick, the group has become a force to be reckoned with. They’ve enjoyed computers, quilting, dancing, pampering, music, days out, drama, and much much more. Intergenerational links have also been a priority and the group have ensured that at all times, communication lines are kept open between young people and older people in the community.
On Tuesday, the group also launched a ‘Memories Allowed’ book, a publication which allowed them to detail moments from their childhoods.
This, said, development officer Geraldine Fitzpatrick, was particularly poignant.
“Last year, we lost two members of our group, Margaret Rodgers and Alice McCallion. Both these women were very prominent members of the COSY club but they were also great storytellers and it occurred to me that they had left no legacy, despite the fact that we knew how good their stories were. There was nothing concrete to remember them by. That’s why we decided to do this book, because we wanted to capture the stories of our members so that they would be written down and never forgotten and that they could leave a legacy for their family and friends.”
Former Bishop of Derry, Edward Daly was among many who addressed the crowd at the celebration this week.
“In two weeks, I’ll be four score,” he said, remarking on the fact that he’d been in Derry for a total of 52 of his 80 years.
Addressing the crowd he said: “ I’ve grown old with many of you, we’ve had good days together and bad days together.
“We’ve shared histories and seen our community go through many traumas.” Bishop Daly said the one thing which existed through Derry’s darkest days was an unquestioned respect for the elderly.
“He fondly described the Derry granny’s apron pockets as ‘masters of the universe which held everything.’
The former Bishop said he felt while vital and positive changes took place in Derry in terms of the housing situation that the expansion of the city in the late sixties had meant the consequent destruction of many aspects of the community, and that ‘social cohesion’ adding that organisations like the Cosy Club had re established that sense of community for many people.
“This is why groups like this are important, they bring people together,” he said.
“It’s that fact of meeting other people and sharing life experiences. It’s so very important.”
He finished by telling those at the meeting to “be proud of being old!”
The COSY Club’s first chairman, Christy O’Donnell said he was “very proud” of being a member of the organisation.
“The friends I’ve made here will be friends for life and I’m so happy when I look out and see how far COSY has come.
“Here’s to getting bigger and better over the next ten years.”
OFMDFM Junior Minister Jennifer McCann who attended on behalf of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “During the past ten years the COSY Club has evolved from humble beginnings to the thriving organisation it now is.
“ I commend the commitment and dedication of the volunteer committee and the local volunteers, without their constant support and encouragement the COSY club would not be the group it is today.
“On this the 10th Anniversary you are also launching your heritage project –entitled “Memories Allowed”. I had an opportunity to have a look at the art and craft works that have been created.
“It is obvious that they are a labour of love and the result of many hours of hard work. I am sure you had exciting and fun times in creating these and that this will continue as you collate memories of the good times you’ve shared and the history of this area into a book.
It will be an absolute treasure trove in the coming years for anyone doing research into the history of Derry and its surrounding area. By developing this book you are living out the Vision of the Cosy Club in creating a future where older people in the Outer West and surrounding area are valued, feel safe and most importantly have their voices are heard.”
Those in the 50 plus age group who would like to find out more about the Cosy Club can do so by contacting 02871 370196.