The Newpark Close Family Resource Centre – the county’s first community pre-school service – celebrated 40 years in existence last week.
The facility began four decades ago with 15 children and today has 170 children daily aged between 12 months and 14 years old.
The pre-school is in such demand in the area it has a waiting list full up to 2020 – but the centre’s committee has big plans for expansion to ensure more of the county can avail of their services.
A piece of artwork was commissioned and unveiled at the 40th anniversary by Minister of State and local TD John Paul Phelan in the Bluebell Room with well over 50 people in attendance.
The sculpture was made by local artist Lisa Comerford – who attended the centre when she was young and whose children now attend the pre-school.
There are four figures in the artwork all of whom represent the many generations of families who have gone through the centre and inscribed on the sculpture was: “Within these plaster walls, we are family.”
The centre offers wide ranging activities and supports to Newpark Close and the surrounding areas and has developed an immense “professionalism” over its lifetime.
The project manager, Sheila Donnelly, said: “One thing that hasn’t changed is the support families need. Some need a small bit of information or a link up with an agency.
“Others need months of support, even years. The service is here on their doorstep on weekends and after-hours, it doesn’t stop. Everyone feels welcome.”
Services on offer include: homework support, multimedia/test centre, social groups for men and women, women’s educational programmes, community savings bank and a drugs outreach worker.
The centre boasts 50 volunteers and 33 paid staff, Sheila added: “Volunteerism is huge and it’s continued to this day. We’re celebrating 40 years of volunteerism.”
On the long waiting list, Shelia quipped: “Parents are registering with the Newpark Centre before they register the birth.”
She also spoke of plans to expand the centre to provide a new childcare service for the eastern environs of Kilkenny City and would be having that conversation with many people in the coming months.
She said: “The dream is to build a new childcare building that caters for the demand in the eastern environs of the city, this building here would be used by the Family Resource Centre to carry out all the programmes and family support services on offer.”
There is a rich sense of ambition and inclusivity in the centre and this is typified in Perle Leahy, the childcare manager at the facility.
She attended the pre-school service as a child and has now gone full circle in terms of her relationship with the centre.
Unveiling the sculpture, Minister Phelan said: “I’m 15 years a visitor here and there’s always something new happening, a new plan, a new idea. Families have changed dramatically in the last 40 years.
“Resources and help are required now in some areas more than ever before. In terms of voluntary organisations, not many last 40 years.”
Plenty of activities for the anniversary were on offer despite the weather – which unfortunately meant there was no bouncy castle.
But children were still treated to face-painting, hook a duck, milk the cow, with local DJ Paul Meaney providing the music.
Among those in attendance were Mayor Michael Doyle, Chairman of Kilkenny County Council David Fitzgerald, Cllr Maurice Shorthall, Cllr Joe Malone, Cllr Pat Dunphy and local gardaí.