Families living in the centre of Wexford town are pleading for a lifeline to save a community service which is on the brink of closure due to a lack of funding.
Wolfe Tone Community House, a drop-in centre in Wolfe Tone Villas which provides vital educational and support services for children and the elderly, has run out of money and will shut down unless urgent financial assistance is provided.
A crisis meeting is due to take place this Thursday, March 29 to discuss the future of the service which was established 30 years ago and operates in a premises converted from three Wexford District Council houses.
The meeting will be attended by representatives of the Council, County Wexford Childcare Committee, Tusla and Pobal, the company which manages funding for community, social inclusion and equality programmes on behalf of the Government.
The community house is now supported solely by Pobal funding and some local fundraising but it's not enough to cover the cost of the services. Additional money previously came from Community Development Projects but this is no longer available.
According to the committee, both Pobal and County Wexford Childcare Committee have advised them that the community house is no longer economically viable and they should close it immediately.
But two childcare workers will lose their jobs and 10 children will be left without pre-school places if the centre ceases operating. A popular after-school club catering for 30 children was already axed recently because of the financial shortage.
There has been a steady downgrading of the work of the centre which was formerly a thriving hub used as a meeting place by groups including teenagers, women, art and men's shed.
'It is the heart of the community', stressed committee chairman John Black who said parents are very upset at the prospect of their children losing pre-school places, especially those who are getting ready to attend school next September.
'I have seen parents crying about the possibility of the pre-school creche closing', he said. 'We have letters from them pleading with us not to close it. 'I can't stress how important this facility is to the area'.
A Community Employment Scheme based in the centre is also facing closure and the loss of the CE workers will be sorely felt in the locality, according to John. 'They make a vital contribution to the community by going around picking up litter, cutting grass and helping the old people'.
'We had to close the after-school before Christmas due to a lack of funds. We had about 30 children who came every day to do their homework and engage in various activities, supervised by a leader. But we were advised that it wasn't viable anymore'.
Tusla, the child and family agency visited the house and asked for works to be carried out in the play area for safety reasons.
One of the problems is that the community house has been operating for the past three years without a co-ordinator whose tasks included looking after funding applications.
'We asked County Wexford Childcare Committee for help and they came and examined the books. They advised us to close the after-school because it wasn't bringing in enough money', said John.
Sinn Féin councillor Tom Forde who highlighted the imminent closure at a District Council meeting said local people are begging for a last-minute lifeline to rescue the community project.
Calling on the local authority to come to the assistance of the centre, he said: 'The community house has run out of money and will now shut down unless the Council intervenes. We should do our best to secure funding for the project.'
'This facility provides very valuable services and is a focal point for the community. We have to keep it open. The investment needed is a drop in the ocean', said Cllr. Forde.
' People have worked hard to keep the services going over the years. They have been asked to close almost immediately. I think it would be a tragedy to lose this centre. We have to think of all the young families in the area. Parents will be left in the lurch and kids will face a huge upheaval if the childcare facility shuts down.'
Cllr. Forde accused the Government of 'talking out of both sides of its mouth' in preaching about recovering and strategic plans when projects such as Wolfe Tone Community House are left without adequate funding.
'Are we really going to let 30 years of hard work go to waste', he asked. ' I have spoken to local people and they are extremely upset at the prospect of losing this service.'
'As a father and a teacher, I can see the benefits an amenity like this brings to young people in Wolfe Tone and also the surrounding areas'.
Cllr. David Hynes, Independent described Wolfe Tone Villas as a 'very integrated' community.
'It was a very run-down area years ago and has transformed itself. It would be an absolute tragedy if it was lost. We should be fully behind it', he said
Cllr. George Lawlor (Labour) said he would like to see the funding placed on a permanent footing for the future.
'To close such a facility would be a crying shame after all the work that has been done over the years by the committee.'
District Manager Angela Laffan said she received an email about the matter from Director for Housing Padraig O' Gorman and confirmed that a meeting of all the key stakeholders will take place on Thursday. Director of Services Tony Larkin said there are a lot of agencies involved.
'It would be regarded as the worst outcome for this to close. We will work closely with everyone involved', he said.