The New Horizon Youth Centre
Celebrity supporter, Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow told The Irish Post: “Shelagh is home grown in every sense of the word. She came to us from the Irish Women’s Centre in London, where she had flourished and they with her. It has been my privilege over all these years to be her Chairman and her line manager. She has mentored me in the role, rather than the other way round. She is an exceptional force and I can honestly credit her Irish beginnings and her wonderful husband Peter’s support. I feel genuinely honoured to be allowed to work with her.”
Shelagh O’Connor has been the Director of the New Horizon Youth Centre in London’s Euston since 2000. The Co. Kerry woman has spent more than 25 years working with the most vulnerable members of the Irish community in Britain and told us why its young people are often disproportionately found at risk.
Tell us about the charity and your role:
“Our main purpose is to ensure that young people do not end up on the streets of King’s Cross and Euston, where we work, which used to happen so often in the ’80s and ’90s. But we offer a holistic approach to looking after these young people — we find them a bed but also look at their emotional well-being as well as many other needs. We offer a whole range of these services for vulnerable 16-22-year-olds and also work with older sex workers in our area. As the Director of the organisation it is my role is to ensure we have adequate funding to support the services we offer, while ensuring we are constantly looking at the ever-changing needs of our client group and responding appropriately to these young people.
What services does the charity provide for Irish children?
“We served 2,000 youngsters last year and about 200 of them were Irish. We regularly see first, second and third-generation Irish youngsters here. Sadly they are also disproportionately represented in the number of sex workers we provide services for. A lot of these young people coming here are from disadvantaged backgrounds and they can often have a range of issues — from mental health problems, backgrounds with physical, mental and sexual abuse and drug and alcohol issues. We find accommodation for them and continue to work with them. So as well as offering the basics of food, clothes and shelter, we take them forward onto a new path. We give them the skills they need to ensure they can live independently. Everything from education and training opportunities, to health and social services and a range of specialist advice regarding the issues which have caused their homelessness.”
How does IYF funding support your work?
“If we were not receiving IYF funding we would have difficulty giving as comprehensive a service as we do to every young person coming through the door. The IYF funding is a lifeline and we are very grateful for it. It allows us to provide a lifeline for these young people and change the path of their lives.”
How important is the work you do for the children you serve?
“Ultimately we change these young people’s lives and we give them opportunities. We see such a high volume of young people each year, and if we were not here, based between the railway stations of Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross, you would see these young people on the streets. I can guarantee you within 2-3 weeks they would have got involved in drug and alcohol abuse and would be engaging in activities that would impact on their life and the future of our society as well. “So it’s vital for these young people and there is a great need out there for our services.We are also saving the public purse a significant amount of money through the service we provide.”
What does it mean to your organisation to be nominated for the IYF Hibernian Hero Award?
“This award nomination is so valuable to us. In this day and age we are out there competing with many other services who are also applying for funding while funds are being cut, and being recognised in this way gives that bit of exposure which can help. The fact that we have been nominated is so important to us and to win would be fantastic. For the IYF to estimate us in that way, as a successful organisation, shows we are worth investing in and that would help us bring in additional funding — which is always the main challenge.”