Newpark's vital community resource has an eye on the future

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Newpark's vital community resource has an eye on the future
Sam Matthews @SamAMatthewsKP

One of Kilkenny's busiest family resource centres is preparing a new three-year plan and hoping to expand its premises to continue in its effort to help local people.

Newpark Close will next year celebrate 40 years of community development, and the Newpark Close Family Resource Centre is at the heart of it. The centre was recently the venue for the April meeting of the Kilkenny City Municipal District , convened by Mayor of Kilkenny Joe Malone.

"I had agreed to take meetings out of City Hall into the communities - we had said we would do it, and this is the last of four," said the mayor.

He thanked centre manager Sheila Donnelly for facilitating the meeting, and providing members with a tour beforehand.

"We had a lovely tour and we were brought up to date on everything good going on here in the Newpark Family Resource Centre," he said.

"There's a lot of good work has been done up here over the years. And Kilkenny County Council also deserves a lot of credit. In my opinion, it is not spoken of often enough the good work done here."

Ms Donnelly said it was great that the meetings were coming out to the communities and that everyone was working together.

The centre in Newpark Close works around a number of core concepts for its patrons, including the promotion of physical and mental health, support in active learning, safety from harm, and economic security.

"I'm not so sure we are getting so far with that [last] one but we are trying," said Ms Donnelly.

The centre is managed by a voluntary Board of Management, which always has between eight to 10 members. Ms Donnelly added that they were lucky to have Tony Walsh on board.

There are seven internal departments, including family support, childcare, youth, a savings bank, and a residents' committee.

The centre has 35 members of staff, who are resourced from a variety of different streams of funding. A large number of volunteers also give of their time.

The family support element involves a counselling services, which Ms Donnelly said have become very busy. It's staffed by one volunteer, and one other individual paid from a small pot of funding.

It also includes family mediation, fathers' access, parenting programmes, advocacy, one-to-one support, and a drugs outreach worker.

Around 150 children attend the childcare service daily, ranging in age from 12 months old to 14 years old. The after-school programme focuses on homework support, operating Monday to Friday.

"We developed that programme because we could see that people were getting blocked from going on to secondary [education] because they weren't getting the homework done," said Ms Donnelly.

Five schools avail of a daily bus service, which caters for 35 students. Ms Donnelly said they had fundraised to buy the second-hand bus, and they would love a bigger one.

The Rapid Community Garden Project is funded by the Kilkenny County Enterprise Board. It caters for 20 young people, aged between 18-35 years old, who are long-term unemployed.

Recently, 20 new people had registered for the phase eight - a 40-week full award in horticulture, level 4.


Shockingly, Ms Donnelly said that every year the programme has run, they had lost a young person to suicide. A tree is always planted for them.

"There isn't one year it hasn't happened," she said.

There are also services for older people, including the Fen Men, the Nifty 50s, a history group, art group, over 50s, care and repair, and other supports. There are men's groups, women's groups, parents and toddlers, and back to education classes. English language classes too have become popular for people integrating into the community.

The IT room hosts ECDL and computer literacy classes.

There are youth services, a youth cafe, a youth group, study group, grinds - and another gem in the crown - the Junior Litter Wardens programme, which has been commended on numerous occasions. They are out every second Saturday tidying up the area, and Keep Kilkenny Beautiful support them in any way they can.

"If they see you dropping cigarette butts or papers, they will say it," says Ms Donnelly.

"We don't have litter from children here. It is from the adults."

Ms Donnelly also expressed concern about the take-up of Irish language in schools, saying that in some cases, it was almost like children were being actively discouraged from studying it.

"I say 'do', because you are ruling out a whole line of [potential] work," she said.

"It is the last thing they should be letting go of. So I brought in grinds in maths and Irish."

The community savings back has almost 170 accounts in it, one third of which are held by children under the age of 16. It teaches them the value of saving money from a young age.

The bank is run by 10 volunteers, and supported by staff. There are limits on the amount of money that can be saved.

"From consultation with the community, [we think] dependency on money lenders has decreased," said Ms Donnelly.

So what's next for the centre?

The centre is beginning the process of developing a new three-year work plan (2017-2020). Next year will also see the celebration of 40 years of community development work in Newpark Close - since 1977.

Ms Donnelly also hopes it will be feasible to extend the building for more space.