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Blog: Remembering the legacy of St Mungo's Old Folks Club

St Mungo's Old Folks Club - archive picture

10 January 2024

By Gerry Healy, Committee Member 1968-2023

St Mungo’s Old Folks Club opened during Old Folks Week 1963 in Townhead, Glasgow. The building consisted of three parochial halls built in 1858 – lower (the clubroom), middle (activities) and top (dining area with a capacity of 200).

The idea came from Fr John Griffin, a priest at St Mungo’s church. He saw the need for somewhere for food, fun, companionship and activities for the large elderly population.

He put together a formidable committee under the chairmanship of Professor Ferguson Anderson, the world’s first professor of geriatric medicine. Both men were forward-thinking in the field of elderly care in the community. On the first day, over 200 older people queued for a three-course lunch.

In the early 70s, the building was extended to include further amenities. Bridie Connell, MBE and Scotswoman of the Year, was appointed convenor. Under her guidance, St Mungo’s grew. Financial support came from Strathclyde Regional Council for activities and health. There was a drama group and a ballroom dancing team, as well as day trips, holidays and fundraising activities. Membership grew to 800. The centre was open to everyone, with a monthly ecumenical service available for those who wished it.

The model was ideal. Fr John undertook some work for Scottish Old Peoples Welfare for a year. He travelled Scotland rolling out the idea. Ferguson Anderson brought staff from the World Health Organisation to see “the wee club”.

St Mungo’s relied on fundraising and the acquiring of grants and donations. They made a little go a long way thanks to their 150 volunteers. Schools and colleges were encouraged to become involved and the NHS used the centre as part of community training. In addition, valuable support was given by Age Scotland. The model rolled on, but times changed. Free bus pass – people not classed as “old” at age 60 – Townhead was changing from residential to student flats.

The financial crisis around 2008 had a massive impact on charity funding. Life moved on but with little room for development. Local authority budgets were squeezed. Then the Covid pandemic hit. The centre was forced to close. A blow. The main element of the funding came from Glasgow City Council grants. In 2020, St Mungo’s and five other older people’s groups were refused funding. Thus, the centre never reopened its doors.

It was the beacon in the field of support for older people in community care. I was proud to be involved.