Time is ticking away for the three staff members of the Ballymun Young Women’s Project. They’re almost five weeks into their six weeks’ notice.
But they are holding out hope that they won’t lose their jobs and that their programme will continue to help young women in the area.
It may sound crazy but here’s the problem: the project needs a host to manage and administer its funding. But so far, no organisation has stepped up.
In recent times, the project – which has been around for thirteen years – has been transferred from host to host as if it were a package in a game of pass the parcel.
Originally, it was part of the Ballymun Women’s Resource Centre, which closed last August. It was then transferred to the Ballymun Whitehall Area Partnership, but when this failed to secure funding from the new Social Inclusion Community Activation Programme, it closed too.
The Young Women’s Project did not disappear; it is funded through the City of Dublin Youth Service Board (CDYSB). But, since March, it has been in limbo, waiting for a host organisation.
It was expected that the Ballymun Regional Youth Resource (BRYR) would step in and manage the project, but it has turned down the task. (BRYR could not be reached for comment.)
Throughout this whole process, the three staff members – Michele Gifford, Paula Mooney and Natasha Wilson – say they have been left in the dark.
Acronym-heavy talks involving the CDYSB, BRYR and their SIPTU representatives have been ongoing, and the staff members have to wait to hear news from their union representative, Karen Smollen.
They “have been treated in an appalling manner throughout this process,” says Smollen, who is trying to save the project. “All we needed was another host to take it over.”
The case has been referred to the Labour Relations Commission.
More Than a Youth Club
Gifford has been working at the Ballymun Young Women’s Project for twelve years and stresses that it is more than just a youth club.
She and her colleagues deal with vulnerable young women and girls, and receive referrals from the HSE. At the moment, Gifford says there are 87 young women on their register, and though they don’t all attend the centre at the same time, they can drop in whenever they need.
The staff arrange the programme depending on the needs of each individual that comes to them. The project deals with primary-school kids, pre-teens and teenage mothers and has guided women from the age of ten all the way into their early twenties, says Mooney.
“It’s unique and well needed,” says Mooney describing the tight-knit community as a family.
Says Gifford: “We are eager to hold on to the service. It’s the only gender-specific one for young women.”
Mooney believes this is particularly important to have in Ballymun, where there are many lone parents.
The project’s work with teen mothers includes giving them time to read and bond with their babies, as well as talks. The staff see their role as providing a support network.
“We’ve worked a long time in the community and have a good idea of the needs of young women,” says Gifford. Having grown up in Ballymun, she and Mooney know first-hand the role that youth initiatives play in keeping kids on the straight and narrow.
Keeping a Sense Community
More recently, they have encountered young mothers from the area who have become homeless and have had to move outside of the area to stay in hotel accommodation, explains Nicola Fitzpatrick, a former employee of the Women’s Resource Centre who has stayed involved with the project.
One woman travels from Parkgate Street with her three children to attend meetings. The project’s staff try to support her and keep her connected with the community, as she doesn’t know anyone where she lives now.
Mooney says many young women are being displaced because rent allowance is no longer accepted in the area. (This is part of an effort to diversify the social mix there.) The project staff try to keep these women in touch with the community.
“They do depend on youth services,” says Fitzpatrick, who recently received a call from one young woman asking what she should do when a rat comes into her home. “Otherwise they would be lost.”
The Demise of Local Services
In the past couple of years, Ballymun has lost a number of community programmes and services.
“We simply cannot afford to lose another service,” says local Sinn Féin councillor Noeleen Reilly, who points out the loss of the Women’s Resource Centre, the Ballymun Whitehall Area Partnership, the Tús Nua daycare centre and the motor-tax office.
Mooney added three creches and the Community Action Programme to that list. “So much has been lost for a town that was supposed to be regenerated,” she says. It looks great when you’re driving in, she says, but there’s not even a proper supermarket.
Says Gifford: “We put up with Ballymun being a building site and now it’s turning into a ghost town.”
Living in Limbo
The project’s staff still haven’t told any of the children about the possibility that it could end in two weeks. “It would have a great impact on all of them,” says Gifford.
Smollen is hopeful that the project and its three staff jobs can be saved, as the funding is secure and all they need is a new youth organisation to manage the project.
She is currently in talks and looking at alternative host organisations that might be interested in hosting the project.