St. Andrew’s ‘A Supermarket of Services’

st andrews resource centre

St. Andrew’s Resource Centre, since its inception in the 1980s has fuelled the local communities of Pearse Street and the Docklands with events and services.

The building that now houses St. Andrew’s was opened in 1895 as a public school for the boys of Westland Row. After a steep decline in the local economy – including Pearse Street, Ringsend and the faltering docklands – the school was closed in 1976. The Dublin Archdiocese, who ran the school, made the building available to be redeveloped as a community resource centre. This took place between 1986–1989 with the help of FÁS and local government.

“When we started off we had a really big building and weren’t sure what to do with it,” said John Fitzsimons the Manager of St. Andrew’s who was involved in the initial set-up of the centre. “So, we decided to build a supermarket of services,” he said. John and his team asked around to see what the community wanted the most. Due to the lack of jobs and opportunity in the area, it was clear a combination of education and social services needed to be offered.

“In the early days, we had nothing,” said Betty Watson, Manager of Adult Education and one of the two Bettys who were there at the start. “We had these women who wanted to come back to education, they had tried to go to night classes, but it didn’t work because some were pregnant, some had jobs.”

If the centre was going to be a success, Betty knew that education, including courses certified by the VEC, had to be a pivotal part of the overall project. “We were mad into education and we were often freezing in the building – the women wore fingerless gloves – but many were into education, that’s basically why it started,” she said.

The centre initially offered a number of key services such as childcare and education. Then in the 1990s, things like IT classes were offered (the Digital Community Project) which organised a number of groups and clubs for the tech-savvy generation, or those just hoping to get to grips with technology. There was a seniors’ centre, a job centre, a welfare rights information centre, an off-site state of the art fitness centre (Gloucester Street Sports Centre) and a Talk About Youth program (TAY).

st andrews garden1

“We take groups away on exchanges, we have summer projects and we have things for Halloween,” said Orla Grimes, Youth Worker with TAY. The participation rate in TAY has been rising each year as the programme gets more publicity. Currently, a group of 20 teenagers are away in Malta and Norway meeting local young people, experiencing local sites and absorbing a different culture. TAY also run weekly groups for 8 – 10 year olds and 10 – 18 year olds in activities such as alternative sports, guitar lessons, film clubs and a DJ group.

Facilitating all these programmes is a staff of 204 workers, with 90% coming directly from the local area. Such community inclusion has allowed St. Andrew’s to build up a reputation as a hub for everyone. Although recent years have seen cuts, the centre has managed to extend, keep afloat and consistently give back to the community.

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Below: Part of the garden.

By Liam Cahill