For nine days, community workers at Dán Garda Youth Diversion Project were able to take young people into the centre where they work on Donore Avenue.
On the tenth day, the evening of 22 June, a fire broke out at the Donore Avenue Community and Youth Centre. Its cause, and the extent of the damage, is still unknown, said a council spokesperson.
But the centre’s entrance, briefly opened after lockdown, is now sealed off with steel doors. Through a broken window upstairs a burnt-out room can be seen.
Dán’s team, and other youth projects that had worked out of the centre, have now joined the scramble for community spaces in the Liberties.
Fearghal Connolly, manager of the Donore Community Drug and Alcohol Team – which runs the Targeted Responses with Youth (TRY) project out of the building – said the structure of the building seems okay.
When the dust settles, they’ll be back in to do up the space, says Connolly. “Hopefully within about six months, or less – hopefully.”
Local residents from the Tenters and South Circular Road had watched on as the evening of 22 June unfolded, says Darragh Moriarty, a Labour councillor.
“Any sort of instance, like a fire, like that does bring a community to a bit of a standstill,” he says.
Hearing of the fire was tough, says Dylan Zaidel, a youth justice worker with Dán, which runs the Garda Youth Diversion Project for Foroige, a national youth organisation, working with young people at risk of engaging in criminal behaviour.
“We’d actually only been able to get into the centre and bring young people in for a week previous,” he says. Before that, they’d been working outside due to Covid.
Inside the centre, Dán had an office space, and used the hall, kitchen and computer room.
Covid restrictions meant they lost that base for young people to stop by for a chat, say, or get help with job searches, says Zaidel.
“It was tough, because we didn’t have that space where young people could drop into us for a long time,” he says.
Foroige is hoping activities can be held outdoors, he says. “Hopefully the weather keeps for kids and young people to have fun outdoors.”
They’ll keep up their services for young people over the phone, he says. “They can still call us obviously.”
But it’s not the same as a drop-in space, he says, which was really missed during Covid. Their work with other youth organisations will be hindered too, without a base to meet, he says.
Connolly said that being easy to access was key to their low-threshold, harm-reduction services, too.
“It was easy access for people who wanted to come in and have a cup of tea. We provide meals, one-to-one counselling,” he said.
A Search for Space
“It was really shocking,” says Amy Carey, CEO of Solas Project, a community youth organisation, which was due to start a new project in Donore Community Centre in the coming weeks.
Her immediate thought was for the projects that are based there, she says. “We were conscious that there’s already a real lack of space in the area, so this is just going to exacerbate that.”
The Solas Project runs after-school clubs, mentoring programs, and justice programs for young people involved in offending behaviour, she says.
Connolly says he has been looking for interim space for the TRY project’s services. He’s sure they’ll get somewhere soon, he says.
They need somewhere they can run their meal service, holistic services like acupuncture and art therapy, he says. “And then somewhere we can do our counselling and one-to-one services.”
Zaidel says that Dán appreciates the support from local groups who have offered spaces for their service.
“It’s been great being approached by all the services in the area just to give a helping hand and we just really appreciate it,” he says.
Solas Project, the South West Inner City Network Clubhouse, Liberties Training Centre, as well as schools like Educate Together and St James’ Primary school all offered their support, he said.
Carey, the Solas Project CEO, says the space needs to be restored and reopened as soon as possible. “There’s not really any time to waste with that.”
But there should also be a move towards further community space in the area, she says. “Obviously it’s very much needed, but there already was a very serious issue before that.”
Solas, the youth service, just got funding to run a new youth service in the area, which was due to launch in the next few months.
“As part of that we were due to move to a couple of rooms in Donore Avenue,” says Carey.
They rent space in Long Place for existing activities, but are squeezed in there, she says.
“There’s a huge amount of need, and this community would be one of the most disadvantaged communities in the city, it’s been very under-resourced for a long long time,” says Carey.