AN Irish social travel and home-stay model for older people will pick up a €50,000 European social innovation award tomorrow.
The Freebird Club club is the brainchild of Peter Mangan, who is currently Administrative Manager for Research Operations & Finance at University College Dublin.
Mr Maagan has developed a web-based members’ club based around social travel, specifically aimed at older people.
The club, which has one of three prize-winners in the European Commission’s annual European Social Innovation Competition, operates in much the same way as popular sites such as Airbnb where hosts and guests agree on a nightly tariff for a home-stay.
Mr Mangan told The Irish Post: “We were due to collect our trophy in November in Brussels, but sadly that coincided with the lock-down in the city due to a major terrorist threat.
“So we’ll be collecting our prize instead on January 21 from the European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, Jyrki Katainen.”
Mr Mangan came up with the idea for Freebird while renting out his cottage in Co. Kerry on Airbnb and similar sites.
Freebird members who choose to become ‘hosts’ can make their spare rooms available to fellow members; however these home-stays are designed to always involve the host being present, as this concept focuses as much on enjoying the company as the accommodation.
While this idea was conceived in Mr Mangan’s home in Killorglin, its early development came to fruition in London in 2014.
There The Freebird Club was selected for the Impact Hub Fellowship for Longer Lives — an international programme based in King’s Cross, and specifically designed for new start-up ideas that address an ageing society.
Peter Mangan explained how the visit to Britain helped crystallise his ideas.
“Over the course of my time in London I was involved in a number of focus group sessions in Open Age Centres around the city,” he said.
“The feedback was highly positive. We also had meetings with experts in the ageing sector in Ireland and Britain which provided very positive suggestions. It was all very constructive.”
He hopes that the project, once it is fully ‘live’ on the web, will make a real difference to older people.
“The Freebird Club is a real ‘heart and soul’ project. What we aim to do is connect older people, so that in a very real way that can improve their quality of life.
“From an Irish perspective, I believe it has particular potential to connect the older Irish Diaspora in very positive ways, both with their contemporaries in Ireland and also internationally.
“Being chosen as a winner, out of 1,400 applicants, in the European Social Innovation Competition has been an incredible boost; it gives us real credibility and belief in our project.
“We’re determined to make a difference and want to provide something really positive and inspiring for older adults.”
Mr Mangan is currently examining the results of a very successful pilot scheme held just before Christmas.
A number of guests from London stayed with selected Freebird hosts in Killorglin.
The party included two elderly Irish people co-opted onto the scheme via the London Irish Centre.
“The whole thing seems to have gone very well indeed,” he said.
“The feedback was unbelievably positive and constructive, so we really look forward to getting the whole project live sometime in spring.”