The Robert Emmet Community Development Project, which offers a wide range of services including an afterschool and an integration programme, is struggling to find a way to cover a rent increase at its location on Usher Street in the Liberties, its CEO says.
The charity is on a 10-year lease in a 200sqm ground-floor spot, at a rent of €11,000 a year, says the CEO, Austin Campbell. But it’s only that low because they took it as a bare box a decade ago, and got €150,000 in funding to fit it out, he said.
That low-rent lease is set to end in 2024, and the landlord wants to start charging a market rent, which he calculates at €28,000 a year, Campbell says. The CEO says the landlord, who he declined to identify, is a good one, and the request is reasonable.
“He’s not being bad, he needs to make money,” Campbell says. “But we basically need to make up that funding difference to stay there.”
However, the centre does not have funding to cover the increase, and as it’s a charity, it does not have a way to generate income to cover it, Campbell says.
So it has appealed to Dublin City Council to help cover the rise for the next couple of years – but hasn’t had any response yet, he says. “I think the ask is appropriate, so hopefully they’ll get back,” Campbell said.
“It’s like my home”
Dallal Bounekdja has been going to the Robert Emmet CDP since 2018, she said by phone on Tuesday.
She lives about a five-minute walk away, and as part of an integration programme, she’s done all sorts of classes there.
“I’ve done computer class, cooking class, sewing class, history class, all kinds of classes,” said Bounekdja, who came to Ireland from Algeria.
“It’s good to practise my English, and to meet people, and learn what’s happening in the community,” she said. “As a migrant coming here, everything is new in your life.”
Even beyond the specific classes she takes, the people at the Robert Emmet centre help her figure out how things work in Ireland. They’ve helped her fill out forms, and search for things on the internet, for example, she says.
Dublin’s South-West Inner City – where the centre is located – has the fourth-largest share, of all the local electoral areas in the country, of residents not born in Ireland or the UK, according to 2022 census data from the Central Statistics Office.
Nearly 34 percent of residents of this area reported having been born elsewhere, putting it behind only the North Inner-City (44 percent), Blanchardstown-Mulhuddart (37 percent), and the South-East Inner-City (35 percent).
“As migrants, we need programmes like this,” Bounekdja said about the integration programme at the centre that she’s been a part of. “It’s good for me, not just for me, for everyone.”
“I hope Robert Emmet stay in this area because it means a lot to me, it’s like my home,” she said by WhatsApp later.
The neighbourhood is also diverse in other ways, according to the 2022 Pobal Deprivation Index.
In the immediate area of the centre are census “small areas” that are classed as “extremely deprived”, “marginally below average”, “marginally above average” and “affluent”.
In addition to the integration programmes like the one that Bounekdja has been part of, the centre offers many other services to residents in these areas, according to a document provided by Campbell, the CEO.
There are adult-education classes delivered in partnership with the City of Dublin Education and Training Board. Like painting, yoga, cooking, local history, computers and pottery.
There’s an afterschool service providing hot meals and homework support to two dozen kids between the ages of 7 and 12, each weekday afternoon.
There’s a housing clinic delivered by a community development worker each Tuesday to help people with housing difficulties.
And maintenance and rent clinics each Wednesday delivered by Dublin City Council, which is the landlord for the Oliver Bond flats across Usher Street from the centre.
The centre also provides space for 13 local community groups to meet, including sports clubs, a youth drama group, and local residents’ associations, the document says.
“There is no space locally that those activities can go,” said Campbell, the Robert Emmet CDP’s CEO.
So if the council doesn’t get back to the centre and agree to help, and nobody else does either, “all of the services delivered would go, I guess. That’s the worst case scenario”, Campbell said.
“A listening ear”
Gayle Cullen, the chair of the Oliver Bond Residents Group, said on Tuesday by phone that the centre is an important resource for the area.
There’s all the programmes, which are great, Cullen says. But it’s more than that, she says.
Deirdre Smith, co-ordinator for the planned regeneration of the Oliver Bond flats, works out of the centre, and she goes above and beyond, Cullen says.
There’s no council office nearby, so if people – especially elderly people who find it hard to go further – have problems they go in to Smith for help, Cullen says.
Say there’s a leak they urgently need fixed, they might go over to Robert Emmet CDP and get help getting help from the council, she says.
Or, say, there’s someone in the community who has mental-health issues and needs someone to talk to, or help scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or something like that, Cullen said. They might go over to Robert Emmet CDP and get help, too, she said.
“Or it could be someone is just having a bad day and they storm over there to have a rant, and there’s someone there just willing to listen,” she says. “It’s actually playing a very, very key role in our community at the minute.”
“For residents, not all residents have family members, so [at the centre] they have somebody to turn to,” Cullen says.
There’s already a lack of community spaces and community services in the area, just for the flats, Cullen said. And with new apartments going up around Oliver Bond, the area needs more places like the Robert Emmet CDP, not fewer, she said.
“If we lost the Robert Emmet centre the problems would be worse,” she said. “Sometimes what people need is a listening ear, and that wouldn’t be there.”
All these services “are provided in a part of the city where such community activities are sorely lacking and in need of expansion, not closing down”, Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty wrote recently to the council’s chief executive, Richard Shakespeare.
In a written query at the 7 November monthly council meeting, Moriarty also asked Shakespeare to engage with Robert Emmet CDP about the rent increase, “which jeopardises the array of community services provided at this location”.
“The Robert Emmet CDP has made a proposal to the Council to support them to cover the increased rent over the 2024-2026 period – can the Chief Executive confirm if the Council is in a position to support and make a statement on the matter?” he wrote.
The response: “A reply will be issued to the Councillor within two weeks of the Council Meeting.”
The council also has not responded to queries sent to its press office Friday about Robert Emmet CDP’s request for help covering its rent, and, if not, whether it will help the charity find another location to run these services from.
Although Campbell declined to give the name of the centre’s landlord, or their contact information, public records seem to provide an answer.
A 2013 planning application submitted to the council by Robert Emmet CDP includes a letter from a solicitor saying that the owner of the property the centre was in was Patrick O’Connor, and that he consented to the planning application.
O’Connor has not yet responded to a query sent Tuesday to the solicitor who sent the 2013 letter in support of the centre’s planning application, asking whether he was confident he could find another tenant for the space if the Robert Emmet CDP had to move out because of the rent increase.
Commercial vacancy rates are high and rising in Dublin in recent years.