TWO Cork women, both hailing from the northside, are raising funds for and awareness about the Sexual Violence Centre in Cork, which has found new ways to operate during the coronavirus lockdown.
Elaine Buckley, who was a service user some years ago, came up with the idea of doing a ‘camino de northside’, by repetitive walking within the daily allowance radius of 2km, clocking up 123km over a two-week period.
Her friend, Kaia Purcell, has also joined in the challenge.
Elaine, who works in the advertising department of The Echo and the Irish Examiner, has a bucket list. Walking a part of the Camino in Spain this summer was on that list but that plan has had to be scrapped because of restrictions on travel due to the pandemic.
But undeterred, Elaine, who is used to coming up with novel ways to raise money having worked in the charity sector, decided she wanted to do something positive during the lockdown.
She admires the work of Mary Crilly at the Sexual Violence Centre and went on her sponsored walk for the centre.
“I’ve actually finished the walk,” says Elaine. “I did two to two-and-a-half hours every day, walking in every direction from my house. I’m lucky being in Blackpool. I walked in every direction from my home there and could walk into town as far as Paul Street.
“I took pictures along the way, going down lanes and streets I haven’t been in for years. It was very nice.
“I did it on my own, apart from my dogs. I have two golden retrievers called Charlie and Sadie. I can’t walk the two of them together so they took it in turns to come with me most days.”
Elaine set up an ‘Everyday Hero’ account and aimed to raise €500. “The last time I checked, I had raised €2,500,” she says.
“It was a lovely experience and a great way to pass the time during all this. I am still walking every day though!”
Before her current job, Elaine worked for the ‘Make a Wish’ foundation as well as for Childline.
With the lockdown in place, she is all too aware of how charities are in need. The Sexual Violence Centre is still operating, dealing with people who are trapped inside their homes with their abusers. “Their phone lines are in need now more than ever,” said Elaine.
There is a myth that the lockdown is putting an end to sexual violence, as it’s seen as something that arises from the abuse of alcohol in pub and clubs. But sexual assault treatment units around the country are reporting presentations that are 50% of the normal volume.
“A lot of people that the centre supports are experiencing sexual violence in the home, which is very worrying,” said Elaine.
“The Sexual Violence Centre is upgrading its technology to do things like counselling on Zoom. Even just to have someone to talk to on the phone is important. Sometimes, it’s easier to talk to a stranger, somebody who is impartial.
“A lot of sexual violence and abuse victims will never speak about it.”
For those who do call the Sexual Violence Centre, Elaine says they are advised on how best to approach the gardaí if they decided to report a crime. “It’s a really good service, especially for someone who doesn’t know where to go.”
Elaine admits that her fund-raising idea is “a bonkers one,” and adds: “I never expected to raise all that money just by putting a spin on walking and highlighting the work of the centre.”
Her bucket list also involves climbing Kilimanjaro which her sister has done. She would also like to go to Graceland as she is a big Elvis Presley fan.
“I got to spend Christmas in Thailand with my husband a couple of years ago,” said Elaine. “And of course, everybody wants to go on the Inca Trail.”
More locally, Elaine marked the end of her Camino de Northside by walking up St Patrick’s Hill. “That would be no big deal for some people and walking about 8km a day isn’t a big deal for some also. But I lead quite a sedentary life so it was a lot for me.
“I was delighted to be able to walk up Patrick’s Hill, not having done it for 20 years. I wasn’t breaking any records but it was a nice way to finish and it was quite emotional for me.”
When I call Kaia Purcell on her mobile phone, she is just getting ready for her daily version of Camino de Northside.
Walking and talking, she explains that she is currently staying at her grandfather’s house in Mayfield as he is sick.
For her walk, she goes to Dillon’s Cross and does a loop around St Lukes.
“So far, I’ve done 72km out of 100k,” said Kaia. “It’s not the Camino that Elaine’s one is based on. I came on board a bit later, taking inspiration from Elaine. I walk about 5.5km a day.”
Kaia, 21, who was brought up in Mayfield, lives in Deerpark when she’s not minding her grandfather. She is currently working in her job in a warehouse where parts for hospitals and supermarkets are stored.
She also has another part time job and has been doing an internship at Kiss Magazine in Dublin one day a week.
Being idle is “not an option” during the lockdown. Kaia wants to raise awareness that the Sexual Violence Centre is operating throughout the pandemic.
Kaia, who knows Elaine since she was working for Childline, has raised more than €700 so far for the centre. Both wore the ‘1 in 5’ t-shirt on their walks to highlight the proportion of women who have experienced sexual violence.
“Elaine was doing charity shows and I did some modelling for a show. That’s how we met.”
Kaia is a finalist for the Miss Cork contest which has been postponed.
“It’s a bit of a platform to raise awareness about having every day conversations about things we want to change,” she says,
The Miss Cork contest winner goes on to Miss Ireland with the winner entering Miss World.
Kaia doesn’t think that competitions like this objectify women nowadays.
“In the past, a lot of these competitions would have been all about looks. But now there’s a portion of the pageant called ‘Beauty with a Purpose’. You’re required to do some good or raise awareness about something you care about. It’s not all about ‘who’s the prettiest?’”
The Sexual Violence Centre is doing counselling sessions online. There is also the centre’s text/Whatsapp service (087 1533393) which is particularly important for people in unsafe living conditions. The centre is still operating its freephone helpline (1800 496 496.)