BY NIAMH HAYES
A NUMBER of years ago, a group of Clonakilty youths had a dream. That dream was to have a space to meet up, socialise, and play games and music. From this, the idea of a youth centre was born. They knew a space would have to be located and that a hefty sum of money would have to be raised, but these challenges didn’t stop them. They rose to the challenge and set a target of raising €70,000. In January, they exceeded their expectations and hit €95,000 and now the dream is about to become reality.
It’s been a long time in the pipeline which makes this project even sweeter for all involved.
When Clonakilty Town Council was winding up in 2014, one of the last motions passed was the need to support local youths. A former Council office on Lamb Street, adjacent to Deasy’s carpark, was of little practical use anymore and so Cork County Council agreed to lease the property for use as a youth centre.
To oversee the fundraising efforts to transform the space, a committee was put together, made up of local youths and adults.
Fast forward several years and the tender process for the building work is now almost complete, and with the works expected to take 10 months, it is hoped that the centre could be ready by Christmas.
‘What a wonderful Christmas present that would be,’ says Anthony McDermott, former Mayor of Clonakilty and one of the members of the committee.
‘We’ve had fantastic support from Clonakilty and the hinterland, from everyone, every club and group.’
Fundraising efforts were ongoing including coffee mornings, cake sales, concerts, bag packing, raffles, bingo, vintage and ploughing days and sponsored walks.
‘This will be a space that kids can call their own. It will be diverse and open to lots of groups. We received so much support from everyone that they’ll all be welcome,' said Anthony.
He is keen to point out that this is just the beginning and that they will need to continue to fundraise.
‘This is just a starting block. We have lots more plans. Hopefully we can put in a skate park and other things.
'The fundraising will continue and there’s already events organised for the coming weeks and months,’ he adds. As well as a new youth centre, Clonakilty has another new addition to the town, in the form of a youth worker.
Courtney Canning is the co-ordinator of West Cork YMCA. It is a brand new, state-funded role, in partnership with Cork Education and Training Board and Skibbereen Family Resource Centre.
He started last September and is based in Clonakilty, while also looking after Dunmanway and Skibbereen, with the help of two part-time project workers.
‘There was a void in West Cork for a youth space. The money was tendered out to different groups and YMCA got it,’ says Courtney.
The YMCA movement believe in supporting young people to achieve their potential and goals, and Courtney’s priority in Clonakilty is to look at youth health, both physical and mental.
YMCA supports people from 12 to 24 years of age and he is putting a big push on the 13 to 18-year-old group.
‘A survey was conducted in the secondary schools and the response was that they wanted a space to go to. They found that they were hanging around the town, some of them getting into trouble, simply because they had nowhere to go,’ says Courtney.
They found it difficult to locate a space, but local businesses showed their generosity by providing a room to use, including using Richy’s Restaurant as a hangout spot, O’Donovan’s Hotel as a youth theatre space and An Teach Beag for open mic nights.
In the last number of weeks, they have secured a space just off Astna Square. ‘The Shack’ will become the home of YMCA Clonakilty and a space for kids to be themselves.
‘It’s an open room, with space for lots of activities including hangouts, movies and board game nights. We have a lot of work to do, but the kids are the ones who will be doing it,’ he adds.
That’s what YMCA Clonakilty is all about; projects, that are led by youngsters.
They hope to run the hangout space every evening after school. It is an open-door service so kids can pop along, no membership is needed.
Of course, Courtney and the group saved Christmas when they volunteered to help run the Polar Express which was at risk of not going ahead, raising vital funds for the Community Youth Centre on Lamb Street as they did it.
‘When we heard that it wasn’t going ahead, the kids said they were willing to help.
'I contacted the Chamber and said I had 15 willing kids and the rest is history. It put the kids out of their comfort zones, and they learnt a lot,’ he adds.
Before that, Courtney says he wasn’t sure if the group fitted into the community, but now he knows it does.
Both the new youth worker and the community youth centre committee are working together for a common goal, and hope to build a central hub for the youth of Clonakilty.