Mention ‘Resource Centre’ in your average city and people will ask you which one you mean. When you say those words in Derry, people will know you’re talking about the Derry Resource Centre, situated at Carnhill.
The Resource Centre existed before there was a mature system of community development in place.
In December, 1974, Sister Anna Doherty aqcuired nine rooms above businesses at the bottom of the Racecourse Road.
In June, 1984, well established as a vital presence in community, the service moved into its current home in the Carnhill Housing Estate.
Since then, it has become an invaluable resource in the Greater Shantallow area.
There was a major need in the area from the mid seventies, when - in the middle of a housing crisis in Derry - sprawling estates had been built without much regard for the infrastructure surrounding them.
With initial support from the Community Relations Commission and a spend of £5,000, Sister Anna and others soon put plans in place which quickly became the backbone to a huge community.
“We knew we needed to do something,” said Sister Anna, as people gathered to mark the refurbishment of the centreon Tuesday past.
“We were dealing with problems related to welfare rights; helping the elderly in the community and supporting women to set up play groups in their own areas. We started a Meals on Wheels Service in the area, because again there was a major need.
“That service was started in March, 1975 and we got the food prepared at Steelstown Primary School.”
With a loan of £26,500 from the Sisters of Mercy, in June, 1984, Sister Anna and a team of workers and volunteers moved into the new premises where the Resource Centre has remained ever since.
Now in its 42nd year, the needs and challenges faced by those in the community is as great as ever.
Betty Feeney, a retired Resource Centre worker and now a member of the Board of Directors, is adamant that now, just the same as in 1974, the people in the local community are at the very heart of everything the centre does.
“We are a charitable organisation and a Christian organisation and as Christians we work together here in a community which has no infrastructure, very little support and high unemployment.
“This centre did not shoot up because funding had been secured, it was started because there was a need and to this day we are driven by what the people, who use these services, need.”
“We’re hugely thankful to the Sisters of Mercy for the conception and inception of the Resource Centre and to the Northside Development Trust for their support in terms of our refurbishment here.”
Director Mary Bradley, a former Mayor of Derry and SDLP councillor, recalled some of the major issues encountered by people in the area throughout the 1970s and 80s.
“Because there was such a need, the houses were built and that was it. Street lighting was a massive issue. There just wasn’t any. People from Carnhill had to walk to the top of the Rock Road for their nearest phone box.”
Decades later, and while access to a phone is no longer an issue for most people, issues like child poverty and unemployment seem more prevalent than ever.
“When you look at the fact that there are people depending on food banks now, you realise there’s still a problem,” says Marian Quinn, secretary of the Resource Centre board.
Director Betty Feeney said she believes that the priority in areas like Greater and Shantallow and other parts of Derry has to be to remove generational unemployment and ultimately alleviate poverty.
But working in the current climate, the staff at Derry’s Resource Centre know that demand for their services will continue to rise.
They maintain vital links, through service level agreements, with the Western Health and Social Care Boards and the Education Authority.
There are currently 1,270 children from Shantallow and Carnhill under the age of four registered with Surestart and services and countless numbers of senior citizens have also regularly come through the doors to take part in a vibrant programme of activities.
“Welfare advice services are also in major demand.
“We’ve adopted a holistic approach to things,” says Betty.
“The Resource Centre has always opened its doors to everyone. There is no cut off. We will never turn people away.”
Referring to Mother Catherine McCauley, who founded the first Sisters of Mercy House in Dublin, Sister Anna says her approach is the one which has also been taken by the Resource Centre in Derry.
“The door in the convent had double hinges, meaning it opens in the way and out the way.
“ In the Resource Centre we have always opened out to people in the community and we welcome people to us as well.”
For information on the Resource Centre and all of the services on offer there, telephone 02871 352832.