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Coke, Red Bull and triathlons – meet our new CEO

04/01/2018

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It’s now a few months since John Church became only Age Action’s third CEO in the organisation’s 25 year history. We sat down with him to find out a little more about the man now leading the country’s main ageing organisation

John Church, CEO of Age Action

1. Can you start off by telling us a little about your background before you joined Age Action?

Well before joining Age Action Ireland I spent over 16 years in the private sector during very different times than we see now. I enjoyed my early career start with the Bank of Ireland Group before getting my real break with the Coca Cola Company, cutting my teeth in the tough commercial world of food and drink retailing.

My move to become Commercial Director with the Red Bull distributor was a creative and fun time and it’s also where I started to get real experience of managing a lot of people.

Bringing all this commercial experience to Arthritis Ireland in 2005 helped us to make a real impact on real people’s lives over a 12 year period and I have to say that gave me more satisfaction than anything before it. 

2. Do you think your time with Arthritis Ireland helps you understand the issues affecting older people and the wider charity sector?

Absolutely, without it I don’t think I would be able to fully appreciate the trials and tribulations, as well as the joys that are often ignored, of growing older.

Of course, I had the pleasure of helping families and young children with arthritis to live better lives as well, but the largest proportion of our audience was older people.

The charity sector is facing very different challenges now than when I joined in 2005, with new regulations, governance codes and data protection laws challenging all of us. I’m really encouraged to see that Age Action has taken the lead in many of these and taken the responsibility to ensure we are transparent and accountable. 

First impressions

3. You’ve been here a few months now, what have been your first impressions?

I think my first impression has been the hard working nature and commitment of the staff to the cause, which is an important starting point.

In our Care & Repair and Getting Started programmes we have some absolute gems of services that are helping countless older people every day.

I was well aware of the excellent reputation we had for our advocacy work but I’m now also beginning to appreciate the strong supportive community we have in our volunteers such as the Glór groups, our knitters and the U3A network, which is a real asset to the organisation. 

4. What do you see as your priorities for Age Action over the next couple of years?

Well, one of our key priorities is no different to the hundreds of other charities out there, and that’s raising unrestricted income to expand our services.

We have made some good inroads in our fundraising activities and grown our number of stores over the last year. I think there are also real opportunities to engage more with corporate partners and show them the fantastic work we’re doing.

With an ageing population, however, we must continue to ensure we are still relevant and over the coming months we will be preparing ourselves to ensure we do this. 

5. And finally, what do you like to do when you’re not running Age Action?

I’ve always been a keen sports fan and used to play rugby to a competitive level but these days I just watch in awe! I’ve recently taken up Triathlon and find it’s fantastic for all round fitness so I’ve signed up for the Half-Ironman next year in Dublin.

But to be honest it’s spending time with my five sons that’s certainly the most enjoyable and rewarding time of all.

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World Refugee Day

 Today, June 20th is World Refugee Day. The number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeded 70 million in 2018. This is the highest level that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has seen in its almost 70 years. Data from UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report, released this week shows that almost 70.8 million people are now forcibly displaced. To put this in perspective, this is double the level of 20 years ago, 2.3 million more than a year ago, and corresponds to a population between that of Thailand and Turkey.   Today, older refugees make up some 8.5 per cent of the overall population of concern to UNHCR, and by 2050 more of the world will be over 60 than under 12. Older refugees experience an additional burden due to their age and associated conditions. In a report published by the Centre for Policy on Ageing and Age UK, they identified that “the main issues facing older refugees and asylum seekers are low income, the language barrier, the risk of loneliness and a lack of social networks, and possibly a loss of social status”.  Reduced mobility and a high number of chronic medical conditions also greatly impact the life of an older refugee, as adequate and culturally appropriate healthcare is often difficult to access. As well, throughout their time in refugee shelters, older refugees are also more likely to experience social disintegration, the impact of negative social selection and chronic dependency on the resources of refugee shelters. According to the International Federation on Ageing “The contributions of older refugees can have far-reaching impacts on the preservation of the cultures and traditions of disposed and displaced people. The wisdom and experiences of older refugees must be harnessed through formal and informal leadership roles, to improve the welfare of all refugees”. Marion MacGregor, writing for InfoMigrants says “Older refugees can be seen as an asset, rather than simply requiring special care. In many families, it falls to them to look after children so that their parents can work….. Older people are transmitters of culture, skills and crafts that are important in preserving traditions of displaced people. The resilience of older people can help to strengthen communities and they can contribute to positive and peace-building interactions with the local host communities.”