Galway Advertiser charity fund helping young people across the city and county

Caroline Whelan goes to visit a low-key Galway charity doing extraordinary work for youngsters

Natalie Coen deputy manager of  No 4 Project with staff Rosemary Sweeney, Delia Clarke, Nicola D'Arcy and Eileen Whelan with their knitted chicks, a fundraising effort for Galway Diocesan Youth Services. 
Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Natalie Coen deputy manager of No 4 Project with staff Rosemary Sweeney, Delia Clarke, Nicola D'Arcy and Eileen Whelan with their knitted chicks, a fundraising effort for Galway Diocesan Youth Services. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

There is a small nondescript townhouse on St Augustine Street in the centre of Galway city, it looks the same as many others. But it is not the same, because No 4 is special, and the work which is being carried out there is making a significant difference to the lives of many teenagers and young adults living in Galway.

The Galway Diocesan Youth Services No 4 project was set up in the 1970s to respond to the needs of young people in the area aged between 13 and 25. The townhouse is owned by the Diocese and it was decided it should be used for social good.

Teens and young adults attending the service may be going through a difficult time for one reason or another. It could be due to homelessness, family circumstances, being in the care system, drug use, unemployment struggles, a tragedy, or something completely outside the person’s control.

No 4 encompasses a drop-in centre for young people aged between 17 and 25 which operates on a Monday to Friday basis. Young people go along and enjoy activities like arts and crafts, baking, cooking, computer work, etc. Cooking and baking is a big part of life in No 4’s busy kitchen. Indeed the charity even published a cookbook a number of years ago. The cookbook included such high quality receipes that it won a number of awards. At the moment, the funding is not available to publish this tome but it is hoped that some day it could become available to the general public. Because where there is a will, there is a way.

Service youth worker Paul Fallon explains that the reasons people attend the centre are wide ranging. “They can come in to work through whatever is going on in their lives or to discuss referrals to another service. They could need to be accompanied to the doctor over a sensitive issue or to be accompanied to court or the probation services. Many people who come in here might not have the traditional family support system that most children and young adults would have. We also welcome lots of youths from the direct provision hostels who have simply nothing to do.’’

Another aspect of the work being carried out by the youth project is a counselling service. It may be needed for something as simple as a problem a person feels cannot be discussed with a family member or a friend. Or it could be an altogether more serious issue, but a team of fully qualified counsellors are on hand to lend an ear, and offer advice, in a safe, non-judgemental space. The old adage, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ is never more relevant than it is today with suicide levels and mental health problems having reached epidemic levels in Ireland.

There is also a number of educational and career guidance support services on offer at No 4, for example help with numeracy and literacy skills. Paul Fallon says it may be something as straightforward as doing up a CV as part of a job application, or something more acute. “Youngsters may have been suspended from school or may be out of school for reasons out of their control. The educational officer helps them by teaching various subjects and she will also engage with schools to try and get people back into the educational system when they are ready. A career guidance expert works out of here as well. She works with people who have no direct access to career guidance services elsewhere. She also runs a tailor-made work experience programme because a lot of young people might have an idea of what they want to do but have no knowledge how to pursue that particular career path.’’

The youth worker believes the cutting of social welfare payments from €188 to €100 has had a major negative impact on the lives of many young people under the age of 23. For many, there is a very thin line between being able to meet rent and bills and becoming homeless. And if there is no family support network to fall back on, where is one to go? “Before the recession young people would have been on the same unemployment benefit as an adult. They took a substantial cut - couple that with rising rents, means so many young people are struggling. It is a huge problem. People have simply nowhere to go.”

The charity’s accommodation support project works on issues like organising welfare payments or assisting the homeless with access to housing or hostels. Indeed members of the No 4 team travel to the Galway Advertiser office religiously every week to pick up the paper’s accommodation list to help their patrons access accommodation in the city. No 4 also opens its doors to anybody who needs to use its cooking or shower facilities. This could be a case of a homeless person, or somebody with housing who is having financial difficulties and may have had his/her electricity switched off.

Paul Fallon believes there can be a sense of denial about the extent of the homeless problem in Galway. “While they are trying to get houses, they come in here to eat, shower, and use the laundry services. The idea that there are not homeless people in Galway is wishful thinking. The reality is that our project worked with more than 100 cases last year, and maybe 10 of those people are on the streets, the remainder are sleeping on people’s couches, sheds, in places you would not think of. So maybe they are not as visible but they are still homeless.”

Social problems are invisible to the majority. Most of us are lucky enough to live in blissful oblivion to the struggles of poverty, marginalisation, homelessness, drug addiction, and the care system. But these types of issues are very real for many.

The boomtime days in Ireland are unfortunately a distant memory and money is tighter than it ever was. But if there is anything left to donate to charity, one thing the public want assurance about is that their money goes directly to the cause, as opposed to being spent on costly administration. And this is what you are guaranteed at No 4. There is no expensive publicity or fund-raising personnel employed here. There is a core, small team of qualified youth workers and counsellors who help youngsters who need a dig out. And if it was another time or another place, it could be a youngster you know who is trying to overcome a struggle. No 4 is a refuge for so many and it is truly moving to witness such amazing work being carried out in such an understated manner.

+The Galway Advertiser charity fund, which comes about via the donations of generous members of the public who visit the paper’s public office in Eyre Square, is donating €1,000 to the Galway Diocesan Youth Services project.

Spare toiletries like shower gels and deodorants can be dropped in to a box at the front desk of the Galway Advertiser office. These are to be used by members of the homeless community availing of the shower facilities at No 4. Travel packs and hotel complimenterys will be particularly welcomed.

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