Named Ireland’s Most Inspirational Person, Kate Durrant tells Joyce Fegan that people need to stop buying into this idea that we can do nothing to improve the lives of others — because we can.
If the endless rain and growing threat of the coronavirus have dampened your spirits — then draw some inspiration from some of the country’s most inspiring people.
In fact, Blarney woman Kate Durrant was named Ireland’s Most Inspirational Person at the end of last year. But the title has sat somewhat uncomfortably with her.
“This is not about me, this is about the power of community, and all of us pulling together”.
Working behind the scenes in her community, from raising tens of thousands of euro for Pieta House to literally saving lives through Community First Responders, and feeding those in food poverty all over Cork city and county, Kate says this is just her way of redistributing her own good fortune.
And in a world where bad news seems to be on the rise, she says being involved in this work helps her with that sense of despair.
We’ve got to stop buying into this idea that we can do nothing — because we can.”
Altogether, she is actively involved in five different organisations with weekly projects.
“I’m involved in Tidy Towns, St Vincent de Paul (SVP), an initiative where every child living in direct provision (DP) gets a toy chosen by their parent or guardian, Dogs for Disabled, Pieta House (we started the Darkness into Light walk three years ago in Blarney) and Community First Responders.”
What an honour! What a night!November 21, 2019
Time is not a problem, as she describes the work as her “social life”.
“In terms of time, I’m not a lady who lunches, my nails would be raggedy around the edges, it’s just not my thing. I’ve raised my family, and this is part of my social life now,” she says.
“I never think of finding the time, I just do it, if you’re going for a walk it’s as easy to walk with an assistance dog in one hand and a litter picker in the other.”
Speaking of walks, Kate steps the Irish Examiner through the five organisations she is involved in, how exactly she became involved and what she does with them.
“With regard to Tidy Towns, I’m lucky enough to live somewhere really beautiful, it’s the gratitude of living somewhere beautiful and not taking it for granted that gets me involved,” says Kate.
“In 2012, there was a challenge to tidy up an area of your town, the programme Dirty Old Towns. We applied and found out on the Monday we’d been picked. By the Friday, we had cherry pickers and thousands of euros worth of paint organised. People were falling over themselves doing really good things.”
It was from this project that people in her community would start approaching her with other ideas.
“In a small community once you do something once, people will come to you if they wanted to do something. In 2014, Deborah Lynch, a cardiac nurse who was frustrated by poor outcomes once people reached the hospital after having a heart attack, approached me about setting up a Community First Responders (CFR) in our area.”
There are CFR volunteers all around Ireland, who are trained in CPR and will attend a person waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
Kate went ahead with Deborah, and the Blarney group now has 11 active responders on a 24/7/364 rota.
Kate says that local people are often the “game-changers” in society.
After Tidy Towns and CFR, came SVP.
“I got involved in St Vincent de Paul in 2014. Even though it’s a Catholic society and I’m Church of Ireland, Church of Ireland is very much: ‘God is what you do’. And St Vincent de Paul is very much a cultural thing now,” explains Kate.
Her involvement began when her and a friend, Siobhan O’Leary, started sorting through food from Irish charity Food Cloud, which redistributes products from supermarkets and restaurants that have passed their sell-by-date, but not best-before-date.
Kate helped to deliver 2,500 hampers in Cork City and county at Christmas, but the work did not stop then. Her SVP group — St Fiachra’s conference — deals with food poverty for about 200 families every week.
Helping people to meet their food needs means that money that would have to have been spent on groceries can instead go to covering a utility bill, says Kate.
She also believes that it is far harder to receive a hamper than to pack one.
“The doing is easy, taking is really hard. It’s really easy to give. It’s really hard to take a hamper, I imagine.
“What I’ve got is because I was born lucky, I’m loved, I’ve a roof over my head, I win the lottery every single day I wake up.
“There’s a fine line between packing a hamper for someone and unpacking a hamper for yourself,” she says.
After her SVP work began her involvement in Cork-based charity Irish Dogs for the Disabled (IDFD), which provides fully-trained assistance dogs for people living with disabilities in Ireland, free of charge.
Kate was about to adopt a dog from a shelter when she came across the charity.
“Then with IDFD that all started after our dog died. We were going to go to the rescue and look at getting another dog, and then I bumped into Jenny (Jennifer Dowler, CEO) at IDFD, and the rest is history,” she says.
When she’s not walking a dog or packing hampers, Kate is raising much-needed funds for Pieta House. Much like CFR, her involvement came about through her own initiative.
“In May 2016, we started the Darkness in Light in Blarney, walking from darkness into light at 4.15am. I previously was a volunteer with the Samaritans for a decade, and I’ve always been interested in giving people space to talk. It started with four of us in the community, and like all communities we all have had tragedies. We approached Pieta House and they allowed us do a walk,” she says.
“We walk through the grounds of Blarney Castle with tea lights. The power of that is we’re all there together. I might not understand what you’re going through, but we’re all in this together,” says Kate.
Finally, there is work with families of asylum seekers living in direct provision centres. Again, this began off of her own bat. She started arranging Christmas presents for children living in centres near her, but now there is a group that do it.
“There is a group of us now, headed by Ciara McDonnell. We fundraise to pay so a gift card can be given to every parent or guardian for every child in the city. It’s for a bit of respect and humanity, when they live in a system where they can’t even pick what they want for breakfast,” says Kate.
In her own life, everything is not perfect, but she makes the best of it.
“I share my life with someone I love, he’s been unwell for the last three years, but none of our lives are perfect,” says Kate.
“I’ve got a very, very good group of friends, I’m not taking on problems, I’m involved in solutions. I walk with friends every morning. I get up at 6am, and I do a load of work, and I go for a walk at 9am. It’s my mental-health walk, and we unload,” she adds.
Kate lives by two things, one of which is choosing action over despair.
Her second principle is non-judgment.
“I live by one thing — you can judge or you can help, but you can’t do both. There are choices”.
She also firmly believes that Ireland is full of people quietly doing wonderful things.
It’s a philosophy shared by Peter Murphy who set up the Homeless Mobile Run (HMR), nearly five years ago.
It started out with “two granny trollies” full of food, and now, should you find yourself on Dublin’s Grafton Street of an evening, you will see tables and tables full of food.
“We started HMR, you know, the granny trollies? I started with two of them. One for drinks, one for sandwiches, then we went to a trailer for doing the walk around. You could see 80 people and you could see 200 in the Dublin area of a night. We covered every road, it took six and a half hours,” says Peter.
Nowadays, the HMR is stationary.
“Then we started tables on Grafton St three and a half years ago, on Wednesday and Sunday. We do coddle, stew and vegetarian food. It’s better than a four-star restaurant. We’re there from 7.30pm.”
All the food is cooked in the volunteers’ homes. There are 22 cooks in total, and other people who help with security.
There is also a Facebook page, with a large public following.
“It’s 30,000 followers — not bad for a fella from Ballyfermot,” jokes Peter.
But the HMR is not just about food. They organise various vouchers for children, and Peter spends a great deal of time talking with people who are in difficult situations.
“I have a big strong team and me ma started it with me. I have to keep her legacy going, she passed in September 2018.”
Up to 400 people could use the table on any given night and sometimes, for families who do not want to be seen taking the food, Peter will meet them somewhere else to give them food, clothes, or other supplies.
“Having a child come up to you and wrap their arms around you and thank you is very humbling,” he says.
Aside from the death of his mother, a huge driving force for Peter are his own experiences in life.
“I suffer with my mental health, I’ve had my own problems growing up, I’m well clear of it now, but I’m able to relate. I tell my story and they tell me theirs, it’s all about trust.
“And of those, two people said they’d nothing to give. The homeless people said those two people still gave something — ‘they gave us acknowledgment’, they said.”
Listening is something Peter does day and night, and sometimes it has saved lives.
“I’ve often gotten out of bed at 4am in the morning to talk to people who feel suicidal and say they can’t go on living like this. I listen to them and I tell them it will get better. I know a guy who jumped in the Liffey and I’ve jumped in after him, it was that snowy Christmas, so you can imagine how cold it was and he still did it,” he says.
“All we can do is keep on trying, keep on trying. I will devote my life to this.”