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Who’s your Hibernian hero? – Part 2

The Irish Youth Foundation’s inaugural Hibernian Hero Award will highlight the vital work being done by organisations serving Irish youngsters across Britain which the charity supports each year. Ten IYF-supported projects have been nominated for the 2012 award, but it will be up to you, our Irish Post readers, to decide just who should take the prestigious title.

 

Before we ask you to choose your winner we will publish a profile of each of the nominated projects over the coming weeks, featuring a member of the organisation’s hard-working team, introduced by their celebrity supporter. Once all 10 have been profiled we will ask you to choose the organisation you think best deserves to win the Hibernian Hero title and receive the prestigious award at a star-studded ceremony at Irish chef Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s restaurant in London on November 1.

 

This week we profile another pair of nominated projects, The New Horizon Youth Centre and Solace Women’s Aid, both in London. If you are interested in being involved in the Hibernian Hero Award night as a sponsor contact Zoe Desmond on 020 8748 9640.

 

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.”

 

Solace Women’s Aid

 

 

Celebrity supporter, singer Andrea Corr told the Irish Post: “Bernie’s compassion and commitment have helped many women from the Irish Travelling community flee domestic violence with their children and resettle in a safe and healthy environment. She tirelessly works to bring hope and refuge to these women who might otherwise be forgotten on the outskirts of society and she is an absolute inspiration to me.”

 

 

Bernie O’Roarke has worked for Solace Women’s Aid since 2005. The Co. Westmeath woman originally started as a refuge worker, before taking on the outreach service six months later. She told us why the project is as vital as ever.

 

Tell us about the charity and your role:

“We offer aid and refuge to the women and children victims of domestic and sexual abuse across London. We also provide a full range of support services including legal, advocacy and counselling and therapy. We have numerous refuges across London and have 183 women in them at any given time on any given day. Many will be there with their children.
“My role first and foremost is to ensure there are refuge spaces for Irish women and Irish Traveller women and that there is someone there to work with them as they escape that violence. I will also visit the women at the refuges and on traveller sites. Elsewhere in my role I provide training to the police, social services and NHS about working with the women and I spend time speaking at conferences across the country. Basically every single day I am working to heighten awareness of domestic violence in our Irish communities.”

What services does the charity provide for Irish children?

“Solace Women’s Aid worked with 4,766 service users across London last year. Nine per cent of these were Irish and Irish Traveller women, which is a disproportionately high number. Most of these women will have their children with them — and an average traveller woman has four kids — so we have a number of services on offer for the children too.We provide therapy and counselling for those traumatised by the abuse they have witnessed at home, or take them on day trips or spend time looking after them so their mothers get some respite and a chance to make use of our services. “

How does IYF funding support your work?

“The IYF money we receive goes specifically into funding our Solas Anois children’s worker. We see so many Irish children here and this role allows us to offer specific services for them, from taking them on trips over the summer to show them a little bit of life outside the trauma of the abuse they have witnessed at home, to offering therapy and counselling to address their trauma. It further supports the work we are doing with their mothers as it allows them the time to attend our workshops and sessions and get educated to get out of their situation. We help them learn that they have a right to live free from violence, as do their children. So it’s vital that we provide all these services for both the children and the women we see.”

How important is the work you do for the children you serve?

“If this service did not exist these children would be stuck at home watching this consistent violence, which is just so damaging to them as well as their mothers. I find it so hard to grasp, even after all these years, that these children are aware and in the house when this violence is going on. We then find out in years to come what effect this has on them and there is no doubt in my mind that some of the young boys will grow up to emulate their father’s behaviour. They learn that women will put up with violence and expect that in later life. What we provide here works towards changing that. Of course change only comes from within the culture, but we can help these women stand up and refuse to accept this violence for themselves and their children.”

What does it mean to your organisation to be nominated for the IYF Hibernian Hero Award?

“When I heard we were nominated I did a little jig, it’s fantastic. I’m thrilled to think that domestic violence, which is not a sexy subject, is being tackled and highlighted in this way though the nomination. It’s absolutely brilliant that the IYF and The Irish Post have not shied away from this and I hope this gets this message out further — as it’s still taboo — and helps to give these women a voice.”

 

 

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