When it comes to wellness and mental health, the proven benefits of getting outside and talking to people are well documented. Luckily, with Street Feasts, community pools and a growing network of Greenways, there are plenty of opportunities to partake in some open-air therapy.
Street Feast, taking place on Sunday, June 25, is Ireland’s national day of community lunches. The event aims to help build community and tackle social isolation.
People are encouraged to take part by gathering their neighbours together to share food and have a chat al fresco. All you need is a space: either a front garden, a street or laneway, a shared green area, or even a community centre.
Established in 2010, it has grown steadily over the years. In 2022, 968 Street Feast events were held nationwide and an estimated 89,056 people took part.
Street Feast is supported nationally by the Department of Rural and Community Development.
“We’re looking forward to celebrating Ireland’s wonderful community spirit at this year’s Street Feast. At its heart, Street Feast is about connecting with your neighbours over great locally-sourced food, but it’s also about building resilience and sustainability in our neighbourhoods.
“Making and sharing food together is a special act and can be a huge force for good; a way to find common ground and to share culture. It doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment or house, all you need is a space to bring people together,” said Sam Bishop, co-founder and coordinator of Street Feast.
The registration deadline for the free Street Feast party pack has passed, however communities can still take part by organising an event for June 25.
Minister of State for Community and Rural Development and Charities Joe O’Brien said: “Just sitting down, chatting, having something to eat – it sounds very simple but the power of it is extraordinary for the individual; for that sense of community… to stave off all the things that have been challenging people, like isolation and mental health.
“When you feel part of a community those challenges are easier to manage – you can keep them at bay.
“I was privileged to attend a number of Street Feasts in my own constituency of Fingal. The atmosphere created simply by the power of bringing people together was electric in Skerries and Balbriggan and I look forward to attending more in 2023.”
For those looking to make a splash, there are a growing number of local authority-operated outdoor, heated community pools all around the country.
Ballinakill Outdoor Swimming Pool in County Laois has enjoyed an extensive revamp in recent years, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the local community.
The 35-metre pool also features a safe 10-metre shallow area for toddlers.
– Ballinakill Outdoor Swimming Pool, Co Laois
Seasonal outdoor heated pools can also be found in Ballina, Co Tipperary; Bagenalstown Co Carlow; Castlerea, Co Roscommon; Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim; and the Linn Snámha Chúil Aodha, near Macroom in Co Cork.
There are also free unheated outdoor pools located alongside rivers and lakes and along the coast, for those willing to brave the chilly waters.
These can be found in Clontarf in Dublin, Bundoran in Donegal, Portumna and Banagher in Galway, Arvagh in Cavan, and Belmullet in Mayo, to name a few.
Last year, Swim Ireland was granted funding for the purchase of an additional ‘pop-up’ pool on foot of the success of the first such pool, which was funded in 2021.
It currently provides two pools, located in Oldcastle Co Meath, and Ardee, Co Louth since January.
Every 16 to 20 weeks, the pop-up pools will move to new locations on their journey around Ireland.
The Swim Ireland Pop-Up Pool initiative aims to bring affordable and accessible swimming to communities across the country.
The organisation stated: “Swim Ireland wants to improve the opportunity and experience for all swimmers, and so, supported by Sport Ireland, we will bring our innovative solution to the very real problem hitting the headlines – where can you access swimming when your local pool is at capacity or too far away?”
Swim Ireland is now planning to acquire a third pop-up pool, following the Government funding boost at the end of 2022.
Holding 45,000 litres of water heated to 30 degrees, the 12-metre by 3.4-metre steel structure is sheltered from the elements in a hard-sided marquee.
There are changing rooms onsite, as well as a ramp and a hoist.
Swim Ireland aims to provide 750 swimming experiences a week; individuals or schools at a pop-up pool location can book lessons or an open swim session.
The pool is also available for community group or private hire.
Ireland’s growing network of greenways have been a major success story over the last decade, providing locals and tourists with a safe space to exercise and socialise, which is free of charge.
Completed greenways that are currently in operation are: Waterford Greenway (Waterford City to Dungarvan), the Great Western Greenway from Westport to Achill in Co Mayo, the Old Rail Trail from Athlone to Mullingar; the Limerick Greenway from Rathkeale to Abbeyfeale; and the Royal Canal Greenway from Maynooth in Co Kildare to Cloondara in Co Longford.
The Suir Blueway in Co Tipperary also features a walking and cycling trail for 21km, and a further 32km of waterway along the River Suir for canoes and kayaks.
The South East Greenway, which will link New Ross in Co Wexford with Waterford City, is due for completion this year.
The greenway is a joint venture between Kilkenny, Wexford and Waterford County Councils. While the three councils are backing the project, it primarily passes through County Kilkenny.
In June 2019 Kilkenny County Council secured €8 million funding for the project from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Close by, the Waterford to Rosslare Greenway is in the planning stages.
Other greenways in the pipeline include: Youghal-Midleton, Athlone-Galway (as part of the Dublin-Galway Greenway), Connemara, Tralee-Fenit, Clew Bay, further sections of the Grand Canal Greenway in counties Kildare and Westmeath, and the Blessington Lake Loop in Co Wicklow.