Sisters of Mercy donated Forster Street building for women’s refuge

The Sisters of Mercy have donated their building on Forster Street to COPE to develop into a Galway Women’s Refuge to replace the current facility in Waterside.

The former Magdalene laundry is to be modernised and equipped to provide shelter for women and children suffering from domestic violence abuse. The new refuge will replace the existing Waterside Domestic Violence Refuge, which opened in 1981.

Labour city councillor Colette Connolly, chair of City Hall’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee, has welcomed the announcement.

“There have been many attempts by COPE to source a new facility given the inadequacy of Waterside but up to now they had no success,” she said. “It is very welcome that the Forster Street facility is being donated on a longterm lease.”

Cllr Connolly said such a refuge is “extremely important “when women make a decision to leave a violent partner. “Often it is the crucial one,” she said, “as without somewhere to go a woman often feels trapped and hopeless.”

Speaking about the announcement, Jacquie Horan, CEO of COPE Galway said "I cannot texpress how delighted and relieved I am about this opportunity. Our existing refuge, Waterside House, has been unfit for purpose for many years. The building comprises

bedsit style accommodation which forces families to live in one large room without access to basic cooking facilities during their stay. Although the current refuge offers safety and security to women and children escaping in an emergency situation, and this is obviously of the utmost importance, this type of living arrangement is totally unfit for purpose and families in a state of distress deserve better.

"We approached the Sisters of Mercy as we believed the location of the convent site, the security aspects and the potential to renovate all pointed to its suitability as a possible alternative to Waterside House. The synergy between the history of the site and the current reality for Waterside House clients, and the fact that the Rape Crisis Centre has been on the site for some time already also led us to believe that the convent site offered real potential.

In addition to the structural issues and limitations of the Waterside House building, the capacity of the current refuge is also inadequate. During 2012, Waterside House accommodated 100 women and their families but did not have sufficient capacity to

accommodate a further 200 referrals of women and families, who had to be referred elsewhere for safety and support.

"Finding a suitable property has been the absolute number one priority for the Board of COPE Galway for a number of years nowÓ added John Concannon, Chairman of COPE Galway. "Such a facility naturally has some very specific requirements, so despite the

number of vacant properties available, the majority were not suitable for issues of security or other reasons. The Board joins with me in expressing our sincere gratitude to the Sisters of Mercy for donating this wonderful property. I also wish to thank all those who have helped us in our search for a suitable facility over the past number of years and I now invite the wider community in Galway to help us secure the resources needed to redevelop this site.

"Financing the project will be a challenge, but we believe it is an exciting and positive challenge for Galway and we will be inviting everyone to join us in converting this opportunity into a reality."

COPE Galway has only very recently gained access to the property and will conduct a detailed examination of the site to ascertain its long term suitability as a domestic violence refuge, both in terms of size and design, and the costs involved in turning the building into a safe home for women and children suffering from domestic violence.

"Following our five-year search, we are delighted to be at this point in the process, although we know that we still have a long and expensive road ahead of us. We will be undertaking a major drive to raise the necessary funds and in kind donations and will be appealing to the community of Galway to help us create that home for some of the most vulnerable women and children in our community", concluded Jacquie Horan.

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