Users based in Wicklow will no longer have to travel to Gorey, and the centre has rejuvenated a derelict building in Arklow
Suicide prevention and mental health awareness charity ‘Talk To Tom’ have said that their long-awaited Arklow centre should be fully functional by the second week in February, news that is sure to delight the Wicklow service users who have been travelling to their Gorey premises.
Since he established the community-based mental health service in 2012, CEO and founder of Talk To Tom, Ray Cullen, has seen the demand for the charity’s services in Wicklow increase steadily, with many clients from the Garden County travelling excessive distances to access the resources they need.
Having been approached by members of the Arklow community, Talk To Tom volunteers and community stakeholders set about making plans for a new centre in the town.
After securing a vacant premises on the Main Street, which was in an awful state of disrepair, they endured a prolonged renovation process they feared would never end.
As they enter the final stages of the project, with only a few cosmetic jobs left to complete, Mr Cullen is overjoyed that the long and arduous renovation is almost complete.
He described it as a “win-win” for the south Wicklow community, with service users benefitting from easier access and Arklow residents having to look at one less vacant building blotting their Main Street.
“There’s a huge sense of pride and relief that it’s nearly finished,” Mr Cullen said. “People from Arklow have already told us that they can’t believe the difference in the aesthetic of the building, which has been fantastic to hear. It’s been a very long and, at times, frustrating road to get here.
“Honestly, we were looking at targeting a much earlier launch date, but something always came up that knocked us back. The building had been vacant for so long and is easily over 100 years old, so it really needed a complete overhaul.
“We came a cropper with some structural issues that dragged out for ages, on two of the main roofs. They were riddled with rot and leaks, so we had to replace them completely and install new fibre-glass systems.
“That held up all of the plastering and remedial work that had to be done on the inside, which has now been completed – thank God.
“Thankfully, I can fairly safely say that we hope to have the building fully functional by the second week in February. There is a huge demand for mental health services in south Wicklow, so we are delighted that more convenient access to those services will be available in the very near future.”
With around 70 clients from Arklow, Avoca, Aughrim, Tinahely and Rathdrum travelling to Talk to Tom’s Gorey centre on a weekly basis, the need for better access to mental health services in south Wicklow is abundantly apparent.
Mr Cullen maintains that the huge number of people making the weekly trek to Wexford would be much higher, were it not for the inflated costs of travel and the shortcomings of the transport infrastructure in rural Wicklow.
“Access to our services and general transport costs have been a huge barrier for people who need these crucial services,” Mr Cullen explained. “A lot of people in south Wicklow either don’t have a car or can’t access public transport – you’d be amazed at how many people simply can’t get to us.
“To give you an idea of the scope of the issue, the youngest person using our service in Gorey at the moment is five years old, while the oldest is 81. The people at either end of that spectrum will almost certainly need help to get to us, help that isn’t always available.
“Recently we had a person in Shillelagh who was in need of our services, but had no access to transport.
“We arranged a taxi to pick them up on that occasion, but there’s no way we could sustain a model like that. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t in a position to travel those long distances.
“I find it very fitting that it’s these people and their loved ones who are driving the Arklow centre,” Mr Cullen continued. “We were approached by a group of people, including Cllr Peir Leonard, who asked us if we could help them set up something similar to Talk To Tom in Arklow.
“They looked at it and, after seeing all the governance and administration involved, asked if we could undertake it.
“We said that we could but at the same token, it would have to be supported by the community. If it was to be sustainable they would have to back it, from both a volunteering and fundraising perspective. That’s where the idea of having the charity shop to go along with the centre came from.
“Honestly, we’ve been blown away by the support we have had from the community and Wicklow County Council so far.
“There has been a substantial amount of money raised by community groups, GAA clubs, sports clubs and local businesses. And it’s not just the money, it’s their labour and their time too.
“Donal Power, the property owner, deserves a special mention. He didn’t charge us anything, even though we’ve been there for a long time now. We even have the option to buy the property, at a price that is way below market value, which is what we’ll be aiming towards funding.
“It’s just been such a heart-warming response. The people of Arklow and south Wicklow wanted these services, and it’s them who have made it possible. This is going to make a huge difference in the town.”
As Mr Cullen was keen to highlight, the renovation and refurbishment of the Main Street premises will come as welcome news to both service users and Arklow residents alike.
The ongoing issue of vacant and derelict buildings in the town has been a source of much consternation for locals, who will undoubtedly be delighted with Talk To Tom’s painstaking revitalisation work.
“From a street enhancement point of view, moving in has really benefited the area,” Mr Cullen said proudly.
“The building was in such a bad state of disrepair, but not any more.
“We got some government funding through the Streetscape Enhancement Initiative and put it to good use. With the completely new frontage, it really raises the aesthetic of the area.
“Inside, it’s actually a mirror of the Gorey site, so that it will be familiar to our Wicklow users. There’ll be group and family therapy rooms, five counselling rooms and a dedicated child and adolescence suite.
“We will also have a second retail unit, which wont be quite finished by the time we open, that will be used for all our training. It will also double as a nice space for the community.
“Over the next few weeks we will start our volunteer recruitment drive, and will also be appointing two of the new Wicklow volunteers to the Talk To Tom Board of Directors. We have already recruited a volunteer organiser for the Wicklow area.
“We’ll have a huge launch, and will try to tie it into a street event, like we did for our centre in Gorey. We actually celebrated its 10th anniversary on December 5, so we’ll hope to tie that into the festivities at the new Arklow premises.”
To access Talk To Tom’s services phone 0818 303 061 or visit www.talktotom.ie