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Group of older people in south Armagh tackling loneliness in unique way

L-R Mary Murphy, Patricia Crawley, Mary Frances McVerry and Mary McParland from the Lislea circus group with Streetwise tutor Logy (Steven Logan)

Coming into the winter months, isolation and loneliness for older people, and especially those living in rural areas, can be a real worry.

But in the village of Lislea, in south Armagh, there is group of older people who are using circus skills to tackle loneliness in a unique way, thanks to a National Lottery funded project.  

“On a Thursday morning in Lislea Community Centre you could be fooled into thinking there was a parent and toddler group happening with the sounds coming from our activity room. But it is really just a group of older people, who are in their 70s and 80s – but young at heart – and love taking part in their weekly circus workshops,” explained Kate Quinn, community development officer of Lislea Community Centre.   

“The laughter from the group is contagious – they love the craic during these weekly sessions; learning to juggle, balance the diabolo, or spin plates, with tutors from Streetwise Community Circus, including Bucky, a clown doctor, and Logy, a circus performer. The tutors are like family now; we love having them here.”

Streetwise Community Circus received almost £200,000 from The National Lottery Community Fund to run circus skills workshops for older people living in rural areas in Northern Ireland, including in Lislea.

The workshops have been running for four years now – online during the pandemic and then face-to-face. The project has helped people to improve their co-ordination, boost their self-esteem and feel more connected.   

One of the local Lislea Ladies, Patricia Mooney (75), joined the circus workshops at the start of the pandemic when lockdown happened.

Patricia Mooney loves joining the weekly circus skills classes

Patricia said: “This group was an absolute salvation to me during lockdown – I looked forward to joining the class on zoom every week.  

“The classes were so upbeat and a breath of fresh air when nothing else positive was happening at the time.   

“As the pandemic hit, I’d just had a knee replacement and was caring for my husband who had cancer. It was stressful, but these sessions were something I could do for me, to forget about my worries, and thankfully my mobility wasn’t an issue, and neither was my age.  

“Over the past couple of years doing the workshops face-to-face has been even better. I love going to the centre every week, we’re all good friends and I love having a laugh with the tutors. It is the highlight of my week.”

Recently the Lislea group travelled to Morton Community Centre in Belfast which is the home of Streetwise Community Circus. They met with older people from Belfast who also meet weekly as part of Streetwise Circus’ Age-ility group. They shared skills, made new connections and had the opportunity to try some aerial acrobatics.   

Mary Murphy (76) didn’t let this opportunity pass her by as she headed towards the silk trapeze.

Mary Murphy

Mary explained: “We don’t have this equipment in Lislea so it is great to visit the centre in Belfast. Seeing the other people here, of a similar age to me, going on the trapeze and the climbing the silks gave me the extra confidence and boost to give it a go too. 

In our weekly group I love juggling, tossing the hats, and then having a cup of tea and good natter. I only joined two years ago but being part of this group has been so good for me – you get exercise without even realising it, you get the best laughs, and you get to learn new skills.   

“My family can’t believe that what I’ve been doing at my age but I’ve very proud of it.”

One of the tutors working with the group is Steven Logan, known as Logy on Fire. He’s performed all over the world but loves to travel to Lislea to teach the group.

Logy commented: “I love working with the Lislea group – they are so positive and have a great attitude. They will always have a go at learning new tricks and give it 100% effort, and even if they don’t enjoy the activity, they will give it a second go in case they change their minds. I’m always made to feel welcome here and like part of the group.”

The grant from The National Lottery Community fund has given Streetwise Community Circus the resources to develop the project and the time to make a positive impact on people’s lives.   

Jim Webster and Kate Quinn

Jim Webster, CEO of Streetwise Community Circus said: “This project wouldn’t have been possible over the past four years without National Lottery funding. As well as the Lislea group, we’ve been able to set up groups in Fermanagh, Millisle and Whitehead.   

“Having the funding to be able to provide a regular class makes such a difference to people – it becomes a part of their lives and builds great relationships between the tutors and the group.   

“Bringing circus to rurally isolated communities, especially to older people, gives them the opportunity for a new experience that they never thought they’d be doing at that age. It builds their confidence and builds connections over a shared experience – they will never leave one of our workshops feeling lonely.” 

Streetwise Community Circus is one of the many organisations which benefits from over £30million raised by National Lottery players each week throughout the UK.

The National Lottery Community Fund, which is one of the distributors of this good causes money, recently launched their new funding strategy up to 2030 which will ensure National Lottery money continues to make a difference to communities across Northern Ireland. 

To find out more about National Lottery funding visit

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