As the Coeliac Society of Ireland turns 50 - how are the team coping and planning to celebrate ?!

With Coeliac Awareness upon us it was great to have the opportunity to check in with The Coeliac Society of Ireland CEO Gill Brennan about how the team are doing and how they're adapting given the current Covid pandemic.  For those who don't know he Society was founded by a small group of volunteers fifty years ago in 1970.  The society has grown to represent over 4,000 coeliacs across Ireland, all of which is managed by a team of 5 core staff, supported by a consultant dietitian, technical food expert and a group of dedicated volunteers.  I for one am a member and would be lost without the support and services provided by the Society.
Wow 50 years old that’s quite something Gill, did you have anything special planned to celebrate this year that might have been impacted by Covid ?

What a year to turn 50 ! We'd planned to hold a Gala Lunch to showcase some of the best chefs currently cooking coeliac safe gluten free foods across Ireland, obviously we had to put that on the back burner – no pun intended ! While having to postpone is disappointing we're using the time gained to plan a spectacular Gala Lunch for when we can all meet again in person in the future.

What other key initiatives did you have planned for 2020 ?

Given it's our jubilee this year we'd planned a huge Awareness Week and a tea party with our partners Promise Gluten Free, our biggest Gluten Free Living Show in September 2020 and to launch our Kids Club this year in partnership with Dr. Oetker. The key stone of all of our events is member engagement so as you can imagine social distancing, restricted travel and cocooning members has but a hold on all of these.

How does the society get funding and keep going ?

Membership and partner sponsorships are key to our funding, in fact they provide over 80% of our funding so we're going to take a big hit as a result of the current Covid pandemic. We are eternal optimists and continue trying to find the silver linings and opportunities this ‘new normal’ has thrown up for us. We're looking at alternative ways to engage with our members, it is really getting us to think outside the box and look at new ways to link all our members to us.

How are you and the team doing right now,  is the office still open or are you all working from home?

    The Coeliac Society rents office space from the Carmichael Centre for Voluntary Organisations in Dublin. When the Taoiseach made his announcement about schools closing on the 12th March I realised what was coming down the line having kept a close eye on events in other parts of Europe. So I instructed the team to take everything they needed from the office on the 13th and to work from home the following week. I honestly didn’t expect that 7 weeks on we would still be working from our respective kitchen tables/bedrooms/living rooms ! We're all doing ok, we take it day by day and have a coffee morning each Wednesday to check in. It's supposed to take half an hour but it goes on much longer !! You’d be surprised the amount of stuff we get through on those calls both work and catching up as a friendship group.

    Who are the team,  can you tell us more about them and what’s the ethos/culture?

      The core team in the Society comprises of David our IT Administrator, Janice our Membership & Office Administrator, Jennifer our Communications Executive, Andrea our Fundraising & Partner Liaison, Therese our Technical Food Manager and myself. We also have Sarah our consultant dietitian, and our weekly volunteers Carol and Emma.

      I run a tight ship….. ah no! I believe in everyone having a voice in the office, every idea is worth talking through and hearing. I also believe everyone should take ownership and responsibility for their role and work in the Society. I'm very lucky in that I have a team of people who really love what they do and know they are there to help our members as much as possible. I've never worked with a more invested bunch of people. They're always thinking about our members and their needs and how to serve them better.

      My belief is we spend the majority of our adult lives working, so it should be fun and worthy and everyone should feel they've done something good at the end of the day. I think we achieve this most of the time in the office, and you can be sure if we don’t my team let me know and we work together to solve whatever issue is.

      You joined the society in 2018, what are you most proud of since you joined ?

        My team all working together to fulfil the mission of the Society. When we all row in the same direction to the same rhythm we achieve great things, like for the past two years we've had the most successful Gluten Free Living Shows in the history of the Society, increased the size of the annual Food List, and moved the Society into a more digitally focused organisation for the times we live in.

        Will Coeliac Awareness week still go ahead in May ?  If so,  what can people expect to take place that week ?

          Indeed Coeliac Awareness week is still going ahead And with gusto ! We're holding a Ready, Steady, Cook competition across all our channels with a €500 One4All Gift Voucher sponsored by Promise Gluten Free up for grabs.  We're also planning to host the largest online Gluten Free Tea Party on National Gluten Free Day which is the 14th May this year.  All details are on our website for people who want to take part and get involved. We hope you can join us too !

          Any key messages you would like to get out to members and/or non members thinking of joining ?

            Membership of the Society brings a lot of services that can save you both time and money. As a member you can access our dietitian for consultations and clinics, you have access to our Food List with over 8000 certified gluten free products, you have a helpline available to you 5 days a week and constant updates and information on how to live your best gluten free life both in a Covid and non-Covid world !

            What can people do to help the society right now ?  And if someone wants to make a donation how do they do that ?

              If people want to donate please go to our website or contact us on our telephone line which is still operational (01) 872 1471. Your donation will help keep the staff who are working hard to ensure you have the right information at the right time to live gluten-free and safely.

              A big thanks to Gill for taking the time to answer all my questions and also to the team for their ongoing hard work and dedication.   Have a safe and happy Coeliac Awareness week everyone,  let's make the most of it !

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