Celebrity supporter, rugby star Gordon D’Arcy, told The Irish Post: “The Hibernian Hero I am vouching for is Jean Smullen, one of the founding volunteers of icap. Jean first took up voluntary work for Haringey Irish Community Care when, following the death of her husband, she felt the need to do something for herself while her five children were in school. While working with the homeless she became concerned about them after they left, with no net to catch them or counselling to help them on their way in life — hence Jean’s great efforts in helping establish the organisation when icap was founded. “Jean’s commitment is endless. I cannot think of anyone who could be more deserving of this award — she’s amazing.”
Jean Smullen has been volunteering her services to the icap charity since it was founded in 1996. Over the years the Drimnagh native has also completed the Dublin mini-marathon five times to fundraise for the organisation, which provides counselling and psychotherapy services and has bases in London and the West Midlands.
Tell us about the charity and your role:
“I have been involved here since 1993, when Theresa Gallagher began to build the foundations for the charity.We worked day and night to set up a place where distressed people could come and talk about their problems and get some therapy. Initially it was to service Irish people across Britain but now we have clients from all communities — but ultimately we continue to provide a safe place for Irish people to access culturally sensitive psychotherapy and counselling services.”
What services does the charity provide for young Irish people?
“We have roughly 100 therapists providing thousands of therapy sessions each year and our main client base remains the Irish community in Britain. The number of younger Irish people we see here is increasing as times get harder back home — unfortunately they turn up in England not realising there is little on offer here either, so they fall into depression and loneliness. We see so many people presenting with a range of issues — some who came through institutional abuse and some from different traumas — including marriage upset, addictions, alcoholism and domestic abuse. We are a culturally sensitive service with a lot of counsellors that are Irish, so they understand how the Irish think and how they cope with situations. That’s often vital for our clients and it allows us to match Irish clients with the right counsellors. It makes a big difference to their recovery as they get the feeling that they are understood.”
How does IYF funding support your work?
“We provide for clients from the age of 18 and the money we receive from IYF supports all the therapy we offer across the board to our clients from bases in London and the West Midlands. Our main service is counselling and we offer group therapy, couples therapy and individual therapy. We have outreach workers also, and about 100 network therapists based around Britain, Europe and even in the United States, so if anyone calls with a problem we can find somebody local to them registered on our books that can help them. Funding is the biggest challenge we face, however, so without the likes of IYF grants we would not be able to do any of this.”
How important is the work you do for the people you serve?
“For most of the people icap helps we are a lifeline, for some their only lifeline. Some would not survive if we were not here, others would have very low quality of life. For anyone who needs counselling, Irish or not, the door is always open for them. They will get some immediate confidential counselling. But for our Irish clients many will only come to see someone here because they are from the same Irish background, who know and understand what they are talking about — there is nothing out there like it. If they had to wait for NHS services they could be waiting months — by the time it comes through the person could have committed suicide. That’s the worst case scenario, if we are not here where do they go — they go back to bad habits and ultimately the biggest fear is that they take their own lives. These people are trying their best to break whatever’s in their minds and it is a hard thing for them too.We are open-handed; we open our hands to them and hope they come forward.”
What does it mean to your organisation to be nominated for the IYF Hibernian Hero Award?
To be nominated is just fantastic, it means everything. The recognition of the people who put their heart and soul in to make this happen and everything they have done for the community over the years — they have gone above and beyond the call of duty in regards to an organisation of this sort. For icap to be recognised is so important, it helps so much when you are applying for funding and shows the calibre of the services we offer here and the calibre of the therapists we use. A number of our therapists have been with us for more than 10 years which is a testament to the good work of icap — this is a safe place for clients too.”