Putting health and wellbeing at the heart of Laois GAA clubs

Leona Conroy, Chairperson of Laois GAA's Health Wellbeing Committee, sets out the work being to make health central to Gaelic games in Laois

Leona Conroy, Chairperson of   Laois GAA's Health  Wellbeing Committee

Reporter:

Leona Conroy, Chairperson of Laois GAA's Health Wellbeing Committee

Putting  health and wellbeing at the heart of Laois GAA clubs

Launch of Laois GAA Critical incident plan in 2016

It took the removal of our games for us to fully appreciate that our GAA clubs have always supported the health of our communities and this past year has been a testament to that.

The Community Call mobilised our club’s volunteers to help the most vulnerable in our communities. From meal delivery, collection and delivery of essential goods, and the sharing public health information there was not one club that did not stand up and be counted.

But does the GAA have a part to play in the health of our communities? Absolutely.

We know the challenges facing our members and communities are significant and we know our members and clubs are seeking help and advice across a wide range of different topics from mental health problems, to drug and gambling issues to assist in dealing with critical incidents.

Over the past few years there has been a tremendous amount of work been done by the GAA in putting health and wellbeing structures in place to try and address some of these issues and to make our clubs hubs for health.

Nationally, the GAA have been working alongside the HSE, the National Office for Suicide Prevention, Healthy Ireland and Irish Life to bring this idea to life. Every county now has a dedicated Health & Wellbeing Committee, and every club a Healthy Club Officer.

What started as a modest idea has now moved into a movement and one of these ground-breaking movements is the Healthy Clubs project. Up and down the country this initiative is having a hugely positive impact on people’s health. It is providing our GAA members and our communities exciting and innovative new ways of enhancing their wellbeing on their own terms and in their own back yards.

Within our own county, I have seen our clubs host health screenings, healthy eating workshops, organise mental health talks, go smoke-free, organise social initiatives, intergenerational events and make their club more open and accessible.

Our own clubs are already doing this and doing it so well so all we are doing is simply helping to put a structure around it and helping them to embed this healthy philosophy into the culture of their own clubs by integrating health into the day-to-day club activities. We already have two clubs within Laois (Clonad GAA & Annanough GAA) recognised nationally as Healthy Clubs. We now have three more clubs participating in Phase 4 of the project, Kilcavan GAA, Crettyard GAA and Park/Ratheniska GAA and we hope that in time other clubs will adopt the model and start the journey and when they do, we will be there supporting them throughout it.

The GAA is uniquely placed in that they are at the heart of every parish in Ireland, and this gives us the potential to be a key player in driving health promotion within our communities.

Our hope is the proactive work of the Healthy Club project and the new structures in place will help us strengthen the preventative factors required for positive health and wellbeing and this work will help lessen some of the impact that these issues have on our communities.

We want to support our members on and off the field and to do this we need to strengthen our individuals.
If we are sincere in our efforts the effect of this will strengthen our clubs and then our communities. Our job as a committee will be to assist the clubs within Laois to bring this vision to life and to roll out health-enhancing programmes and policies that will have a positive influence across all generations, all backgrounds, and all abilities.

We will also be building relationships and partnerships with other service providers as it is only by working together in a collective way that we can build healthier communities.

We are only getting going in the county but for this to work the healthy club ideal needs to be embraced by every club executive within the county and we need to make sure it is integrated fully into the club agenda.

This is not just one person’s responsibility; it is a whole club approach a whole community approach and a collective responsibility.

We need our players on board, our coaches/mentors, officials, parents, partners, we need everyone to buy into it.

In the past, it may have been viewed as separate to the ‘core business' of the GAA club or someone else’s job, but I would like to think this past year people’s perceptions have changed on this and there is a recognition now that it is everyone’s responsibility and we really are in this together.

So for the year ahead our job will to really solidify this message into our clubs and help them to fully realise the potential that this work can have.

So, whether you are 5 or 95 our vision is that everybody is welcome in our clubs and everyone has a place within our clubs.

This is the one area we are not in competition with each other, the one time we get to work together to share our ideas, share our experiences, help, and support one another in building healthier communities and making our club’s hubs for health.

If you would like to find out more about this project or any of the health-enhancing initiatives happening locally and nationally please check out www.laoisgaa.ie/health or email chair.hwc.laois@gaa.ie.