Staff of Downstrands FRC: Seated, from left: Eimear Eliott and Hazel Barrett, administrator; standing, from left, Michelle McHugh and Kate Morgan, co-ordinator.
It’s a fine spring afternoon and I’m sitting in the Dolmen Centre in Kilclooney, talking to Kate Morgan about the work of Downstrands Family Resource Centre (FRC), which is based here. Around us people are using the library, going to meetings or just having a coffee*.
“It took great commitment and vision from local people to raise the money to build the Dolmen Centre and then to see the need for a Family Resource Centre in the heart of it.”
The Dolmen Centre opened in 2000 and sits opposite Kilcooney Chapel, serving the people of Ardara, Glenties Rosbeg, and Portnoo. The Family Centre was established in 2006 following a house-to-house survey where they identified the need for activities for children, services for carers, and computer training.
Downstrands has a wide range of services which include counselling, afterschool clubs, and community gardens in Kilcooney and Ardara. Volunteers also help run a community library and there’s accredited training and recreational classes on things like jewellery making, and archaeology.
Kate tells me that one of their most important goals is to try and break down social isolation.
“Individuals in rural communities can feel very alone and one of the things we have tried to do is bring people together so they can make friends.”
Kate shows me to a wooden building which was once home to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which happens to be where my parents met in the 1940s and is now the location for their boat-building enterprise. As we open the door I’m struck by the soft, sweet smell of sawn wood. Inside is a 30-foot boat which is in the process of being renovated, along with several other smaller vessels. Kate explains:
“The boat building began in 2011, when I noticed that all the recreational sailing in the area was undertaken by tourists and I decided to see if there was an appetite for something similar involving local people. We were lucky to find experienced boat builders in the community and with about 20 volunteers the group built seven Rosbeg clinker boats in their first year, which are now in the waters off Rosbeg.”
A very important element of the service is mental well-being, and in addition to the counselling service Kate explained local GPs refer individuals with mental health problems to the Social Prescribing Scheme.
“Our co-ordinator facilitates access to activities like yoga, painting, walking and gardening. The project has been going for three years and provides an alternative to more conventional forms of treatment for mental ill health by encouraging people to get out and have a more active lifestyle.”
Right from the start the need for services for children was identified as a priority. At present the centre run afterschool clubs, sports activities, summer play schemes and a monthly youth disco. They also plan to open a Youth Centre called “The Hub” in the old Health Centre in Glenties. A team of volunteers is currently painting the interior building and they plan to open in the summer as a Drop in Centre.
Kate explains the Family Centre has core funding from central government however they have to constantly fundraise to keep all their activities going.
“The funding situation is a nightmare. There is so much competition for funds especially over the past few years because of government cuts. Increasingly we’re having to rely on charitable funding and money raising efforts by local volunteers.”
Finally I asked Kate about the uptake of their services by local women.
“Around 75 per cent of those accessing counselling are women and a there is a big uptake of women using the recreational classes. In addition mums are the ones most commonly bringing children to the centre, to take part in after school activities or accessing therapy.”
Family Resource Centres
Downstrands is part of a national network of Family Resource Centres, and at present there are nine across Donegal.
If you want to find out more about Family Resource Centres in your locality, check out the internet on parenthubdonegal.ie.
* This column was originally published in the March 31st, 2016, edition of the Donegal Democrat.