Early in the morning of Monday 26th June, we set off for Belfast, accompanied by Roisin Maguire and Tom Murray. We were welcomed to the Westcourt centre by Cormac McArt who gave us an overview of the work which takes place at the centre and sharing the itinerary with us for the following 48 hours. We had been looking forward to this amazing opportunity but had no idea quite how inspiring the places we visited and the people we met were going to be. Here we attempt to put into words what we then went on to witness.
The phrase that we heard most during my short time at Rosemount House was that for the residents Rosemount is a home, not a hostel. The sense of community breeds a feeling of family. This sense of family, combined with the fact that the residents are afforded a level of trust, freedom, personal responsibility and above all their own space appeared to give the men for whom Rosemount is their home a sense of pride in their, achievements and the achievements of others, in addition to a sense of support and solidarity during times of hardship.
Speaking to residents it is clear that Rosemount House provides a service unlike any other hostel in Northern Ireland. Staff members provide ongoing counselling and support to not only enable the residents to overcome their core addiction at their own pace, but also support the residents in overcoming obstacles in all aspects of their life, enabling them to return to the world as independent and healed members of the community
The amazing work that is done at Rosemount House can only truly be understood by listening to the men who live there.
In contrast to Rosemount the Welcome Centre offers immediate assistance to anyone who might need it, 18 hours a day, 365 days a year. All the very basic aspects of life that we take for granted are provided; a safe space to rest away from the elements, away from the feeling of invisibility, away from the constant fear of abuse or attack.
The Welcome Centre takes its work directly to those who need it by proactively travelling the city, speaking to vulnerable people and offering its initial services of a warm healthy meal, shelter, and the opportunity to socialise. In addition to providing these core support services, Welcome Centre offers skills workshops, the ability to shower and wash clothes, and, importantly, provides people with a postal address, which is essential when applying for government support and employment. Like the other projects I was lucky enough to encounter in Belfast, the Welcome Centre works closely in partnership with other agencies to help provide assistance in addressing the multitude of issues which can cause people to become homeless.
The Welcome Centre offers an essential service and helping hand on the first step to lifting people away from living on the streets.
We were invited to see the great work that goes on through ASCERT at the Westcourt Centre. Jamie, the lead practitioner, had explained to us that he works on a weekly basis with parents and children on a 16-week programme called ‘Strengthening Families’. This is a nationally recognised, evidence-based family skills training programme which has been found to significantly improve parenting skills and family relationship. Jamie told us about how it helps parents strengthen bonds with their children and learn more effective parenting skills. We were invited to observe a session on the Tuesday evening.
We met for food first and sat with parents whilst their children played and socialised. This seemed to be a vital part of the programme as it made parents feel relaxed and allowed relationships to develop between the children. The younger children had a crèche service available, which meant that all parents with younger children did not have to provide child care. Jamie was very conscious of removing any barriers to parents accessing the service. They even provided taxis for families who had problems getting to the Westcourt centre.
In small groups, we saw how the children would discuss their week with their peers. It was touching to see how they interacted and offered each other advice. They were given the chance to speak and voice their views in an open and honest environment.
Then we went to see how the parents were getting on. A lead practitioner would introduce a concept and parents would discuss it. Humour was a vital part of the session, as parents laughed when told not to use bribery to get their children to do what they wanted (all could relate) and also the meaning (or lack of meaning) of the phrase ‘change your attitude’.
The most important part of the session was at the end. Parents and children would come together for a task working with each other. This session was about ‘our family values’ as a family, they had to create a list of values that were personal to their family. The reaction of each family was incredibly interesting, but also quite mixed. It was lovely to see some families genuinely sit together and discuss what their values meant to them. This may have been the only time in the week that they had the opportunity to do this and some really were listening to each other and bonding through the experience. However, quite upsettingly a one parent and child had a hard time. The mother struggled to engage with her daughter and constantly checked her phone whilst the daughter tried to come up with a list of values, however, this still might have been the most time they had ever spent together.
What struck us about this was the potential the programme had to be used with all sorts of people. We all said we wish we had done this programme with our own families, and we all commented upon the huge potential it has to be used in with families in Stoke on Trent.
Our time with the Link Centre Secondary Pupil Support Service and the Bristol Hospital School TOPs project gave us an insight into how students who are unable to attend main stream education due to significant difficulties are supported by outstanding professionals. They facilitate a programme which enables them to make the excellent progress they are capable of. It was fascinating to see the environment in which this amazing work takes place and to hear about young lives which have been transformed due to these services. We were inspired to hear of the success of these projects and we thoroughly enjoyed looking at the work of the students and talking to the staff who are clearly so committed to their vocations.
There are no words to describe just what an impact our short time in Belfast has had upon us and we are already planning the many ways in which we hope to give back to those we met and those we are yet to meet here in Stoke-on-Trent. We hope to organise an immersion experience for staff at St Joseph’s College which will involve us returning to Belfast to complete some voluntary work at the places we visited during our stay. We also plan to challenge our amazing students to raise a significant amount of money to send to the Rosemount centre which captured our hearts in so many ways. During the coming weeks, we are going to be exploring homelessness in Stoke-on-Trent and finding out how we can make a positive contribution to the lives of those in our own community. If we can emulate even the smallest amount of the amazing work that is going on in Belfast in Stoke-on-Trent we know that we will change lives.
Kelly Jackson, Scott Birchall, Claire Rooney
St Joseph’s College, Stoke-on-Trent
O God, we thank you for the life of Edmund Rice.
He opened his heart to Christ present in those oppressed by poverty and injustice.
May we follow his example of faith and generosity.
Grant us the courage and compassion of Edmund as we seek to live lives of love and service.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.