“The violence and anti-social behaviour that was endemic in Garryowen last summer stands as a bleak testament to the need for substantial investment in community space and community services” – John Buttery, Garryowen Community Development Project co-ordinator.

Five years ago, ‘Changing Ireland’ highlighted good community work in Garryowen, Limerick city, and reported on why a community centre was vital for the area which has a population of just over 4,000 residents.

“We’re the perfect candidate for a community centre and we have to be on top of the list by this point,” said the then project coordinator of Garryowen Community Development Project (CDP) Maghnus Collins.

At the time, Garryowen had next to no youth facilities and parents who called to Garryowen CDP often got nowhere due to limited youth club capacity. CDP staff were all working unpaid overtime.

Staff were passionate about their work and the potential was clear if the community got the support it needed to set up a sufficiently staffed community centre.

Collins said at the time that Garryowen people “don’t want handouts, they don’t want to be spoonfed, but they need some of the supports and services provided already in other parts of the country.”

The estate was built back in the 1950s and he described the absence of a community centre as “an affront to the residents”.

Beth Ardill, LIT student and a former volunteer working with young people in Garryowen, returned to see what has transpired since. She interviewed the CDP’s current manager, John Buttery, to ask:

• Has Garryowen got its community centre?
• Is the CDP still highly reliant on volunteers?
• Is the CDP’s premises now accessible to all, in particular wheelchair users?

Working hard on a centre

Garryowen still does not have a community centre, but they are working hard on it, said John. They are at “the concept design stage” and hope to attract funding once the design is finalised. In the meantime, the CDP would welcome “a clear commitment of support” from Limerick City and County Council.
“It would be nice,” said John.

• John Buttery.

The CDP has moved locations twice since 2016. Their current premises has some advantages: It is wheelchair accessible, but they are still based outside the actual community of Garryowen.

“It is far too small for our needs and, while we pay more than €20,000 annually in rent, we do not get a cent allocated in public funding to cover this cost.”

Is the CDP better staffed?

In 2016, Garryowen struggled to provide for the youth living there – there were only 45 youth places available in an area home to over 800 young people.

The number of one-parent families (50%) is exactly double the national average.
Today, the project has more staff, while volunteers remain central to its work – they help out especially with older people.

The CDP and Limerick Youth Service deliver a model of detached youth work with two additional staff.

Also, the CDP has recruited a sports hub co-ordinator to deliver physical activity programmes in Garryowen in collaboration with Limerick Sports Partnership. This work receives funding from Sport Ireland.

Additionally, the CDP now has a group who can do home visits – delivering the ParentChild+ Programme to families throughout Limerick City.

However, as Mr Buttery says, “In community work, no position is permanent and there is, for example, an uncertain future for the positions of manager and youth worker when Regeneration funding is withdrawn in 2021.”

Working through the pandemic

Mr Buttery said the pandemic “severely limited our capacity to support groups. Not only were numbers allowed in the hall cut by more than half, but staff lost valuable space and time having to work from home.”

I asked him are more than 45 youths catered for with weekly activities by the CDP now?

He said the situation was improving but deteriorated when Covid-19 struck. Prior to the lockdowns around 50 young people were being supported. Restrictions meant only seven young people could be in the space at any one time.

• Garryowen Residents Association chairperson John Nugent standing with local TD, Maurice Quinlivan, in front of damage caused by youths in August 2020 – as featured in the Limerick Post that week.

Violence is “a bleak testament”

Buttery said, “The violence and anti-social behaviour that was endemic in Garryowen last summer stands as a bleak testament to the need for substantial investment in community space and community services”.

From hearing this it is clear that Garryowen is in need of a community centre, a space where people can gather and where youths can get involved in activities instead of participating in anti-social behaviour.

My Garryowen experience

Although I only volunteered in Garryowen’s youth club for a short few months, I got a good understanding of the youth. I volunteered every Monday night for an hour and a half with young people from sixth class. They were a vibrant group and I met some very strong characters as well as some very quiet youths.

Some were very talented – when they were preparing for a talent show I heard some great voices. When all the young people in the youth club arrived in the hall, the noise volume was deafening. There was never a dull evening during my time there.

LIMERICK: “These young people are crying out for a community centre”

Local residents campaigning for over 50 years