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The Churches Trust and Murphy’s Pharmacy Derry

Everybody needs good neighbours!

The Churches Trust based on Spencer road in the heart of Derry/Londonderry was founded by the leaders of the four mainstream Churches over 30 years ago. The Church leaders recognised the level of deprivation in the area and the need for a united response to provide much needed services. The aim of the Churches Trust is to provide quality services that tackle deprivation, health matters focusing on inclusion, equality of opportunity and improving community relations.  

The need for a BCPP project came from older people visiting ‘The Churches Trust Charity Shop’ on a regular basis, often not to buy anything but just for the social contact and to catch up on local news.  It became noticeable that many visitors to the shop loved the company and the social interaction of meeting staff and others who attended the shop.  The effect of Covid 19 has had drastic effects on this group as many live alone and the pandemic caused a deep sense of loneliness and isolation that was becoming increasingly difficult to bear. There was a reliance on unhealthy foods in an attempt to manage loneliness, anxiety and depression and the pandemic made things much harder to integrate after such a long period of isolation. The Churches Trust teamed up with Pharmacist Stephen Dunlop from Murphy’s Pharmacy, also on the Spencer Road and successfully applied for Level 1 funding.    The aim of the project was to improve health literacy and empower this group to address any issues that impact on their life and also bring those struggling with loneliness together in a cross community effort to help them make new friends and learn about interesting health topics together.   

Stephen the pharmacist, Niamh the Project leader and the group of participants (mostly from the Charity shop) worked together and drew up a programme of issues they wanted more information on.  Sessions covered included topics such as heart disease, the importance of sleep and mental health.   Margaret from Health Matters came along to the session of signs and symptoms of cancer and co-delivered it with Stephen the Pharmacist.  The session was interactive and thought provoking, there were prosthetics available for participants to visualise the warning signs of cancer. This really helped the participants feel empowered and also gave them the opportunity to feel heard as they could voice their concerns and ask questions. 

Another session looked at diet.  Stephen spoke to the group about the importance of reducing your salt intake in order to reduce your blood pressure.   A participant Sammy, with the encouragement of others in the group made the decision to reduce his salt intake by 80%.  His blood pressure which is normally high has reduced significantly- this was a huge breakthrough for Sammy as he often got anxious about his high blood pressure. 

The project was a great success but seeing the need to work further with this group they reapplied for Level 2 funding and were successful.  This project is working with the same ten older people.  Their aim is to progress work with this group from their Level 1 BCPP project and the main areas the group wanted covered were around Mental Health, Diet and Nutrition.  The group came together with Niamh (Project Co-ordinator for The Churches Trust) and Stephen (Murphy’s Pharmacy) to plan the sessions, all based around topics that were relevant and would be helpful to know more about.  

The project is halfway through and has gained great momentum because of the level of trust already built up within the group, leading to greater levels of intimacy and sharing of the lived experience, nothing is more empowering than hearing another speak of the pressures you are facing and demonstrating the potential to recover and grow.   The group were awarded funding for Stephen to lead on ten sessions with the group and for him to co-facilitate a further four sessions with groups from the community and voluntary sector whom the participants wanted to find out more information from.  Some of the session topics the older people have chosen, include benefit advice, cooking a nutritional meal on a budget, winter ailments and looking after your mental health.   

On the session on Benefits, Sean from Advice North West came in and co-facilitated the session with Stephen.  Participants learnt about the benefits they could avail of and were supported in making applications for benefits they should be in receipt of.  


Stephen Dunlop, Pharmacist 

These meetings are incredibly valuable, educating the participants and giving them the tools they need helps them feel empowered and much less fearful. Many of the participants visit the Pharmacy regularly now and also the “Twice but nice” charity shop for a chat and to ask any questions, this has really given the participants a lifeline and opened up their social circles by helping them feel much less isolated 


Niamh Fox, Project leader 

What has been remarkable from my perspective has been watching the participants not just grow and learn in knowledge and confidence but also witnesses a growth in authentic friendships. This has been a real joy to observe-  


Mervyn Finlay, Participant 

Apart from the health aspect, there is also the social side, these meetings give an opportunity to make new friends and widen one’s social circle, to give and receive help and reminisce about various events that have happened to us… All in all, we have found the whole experience to be interesting and rewarding and are very glad that we joined, we look forward to meeting up every fortnight and learning something new, long may it continue.