House in the Wells remembers

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MLA with Andy Bonner (manager of the House in the Wells) at the opening of the garden at the House in the Wells.  (0908JB35)

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MLA with Andy Bonner (manager of the House in the Wells) at the opening of the garden at the House in the Wells. (0908JB35)

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The House in the Wells has come a very long way since it was first established in a tumble-down terrace house by Father Denis Bradley 40 years ago.

He established it as a kind of soup kitchen for the city’s alcoholics and over the years it has grown into a purpose built refuge for homeless street drinkers.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was there to formally open a garden of remembrance there on Friday, a mark of respect for men who over the years found refuge there and who have since passed on.

Many of their family members were there and although it is a poignant reminder of their lives, there was a sense of celebration as well.

Teacher Audrey Lines was there to say her own thank-you to the staff. Her father Edwin is now in a home in Omagh, but was at the House for a four-year period.

“We were quite upset when daddy volunteered to come here,” she said.

“But when we came to see it for ourselves we were stunned by the facilities that we found here.

“The whole four years that he was here he didn’t drink and it was an opportunity for him to deal with his alcoholism.

“He had a chalet here, his own independent area and it was the making of him.

“The staff have gone beyond the call of duty. My father had been here two years when we started noticing he had memory problems. We really struggled with external agencies supporting him and the staff here were taking him to medical appointments.

“With social workers if they know there are alcohol problems they tend to write them off whereas here they don’t do that.

“They helped him when he needed it and treated him with respect and got him to a place that he deserves to be.”

Mr McGuinness said it was a testament to the spirit of people in Derry that they did not turn their backs on people.

“Being from the area I am totally familiar with the fact that this facility has been here for the last 40 years primarily as a result of the steps taken by Fr Denis Bradley and all credit to him for recognising the need to make provision for people who are down on their luck,” he said.

“There has been a steady evolution of this facility to what has become a first class facility.

“I think it is a place that the community can take great pride in. It’s a place where people are cared for and support is given. It is an opportunity for people to turn their lives around.

“Derry has never had the attitude that people are a lost cause.. People here are very compassionate, very humane and they recognise that people who are homeless, down on their luck fighting alcohol problems, and many of us have experiences of friends who have experiences like that down the years. You either support people or you don’t and I am very glad that I come from a community that does support them. It’s fantastic and I am really honoured to be asked along to officiate at the opening ceremony.”

The original shelter was established in a derelict house in 1972 and eventually the row of adjacent terraced houses were demolished and replaced by the current building.

Staff member Paddy Downey said: “We provide a safe environment so that residents can develop their self esteem and assess their problems.

“We provide the facilities like computer access, a pool room and run regular competitions. We even have our own chickens to provide fresh eggs every day.

“The residents have a sense of security here and we help to give them back a sense of purpose and independence.”