Representatives from the Three Patrons Parish have said they have met with and tried to accommodate all users of St. Joseph’s Parish Hall in Galliagh, following a protest by local people over access to the local church hall.
Protesters gathered outside St. Joseph’s Church and Parish Hall on Saturday evening and expressed concerns that they will not be given access to the facility for bingo and other activities once it reopens.
The hall is currently closed pending a programme of works to address heating problems, which is set to cost £80,000.
The protesters said that the Parish Hall sits at the heart of the community in Galliagh and has done so for over 40 years.
They said that they have been informed about a month ago that the bingo will not resume once the hall is fixed and leased to the Friars, who plan to use it to address a range of programmes focused on social concerns relevant to young people and other residents. The plans have been backed by local SDLP and Sinn Fein councillors.
Father Michael McCaughey said that within three days of the facility having to be closed around Christmas 2016, bingo was arranged at St. Brigid’s Hall in Carnhill for all those who previously would have used the centre in Galliagh.
A representative from the Parish Finance Committee added that efforts have been made to accommodate all groups who used the centre, with most now using alternative facilities.
Speaking at the protest in Galliagh on Saturday, however, local people said they want their own centre back in use for bingo and the other activities that were traditionally held there, including music, dance, art and martial arts classes. One woman said: “We are not disagreeing with the Friars taking over the centre. If it is for a good cause, fair play, but that is exactly what we are looking for, so that we can use the centre as well.”
A second user of the centre said: “There was everything for the community and everything to do with the community. There was even wee discos at night for the children. They stopped completely everything.
“There are old people that can’t travel up to Carnhill for the bingo. Some people re not going because they can’t afford bingo and taxis up and down. The bingo didn’t start until 9 o’clock but the older people were coming in there at 7.30 pm, having a cup of tea, chatting to their friends and it was a night out for them.
“Alright they have given us Carnhill Hall to use. It’s alright but they’d rather have their own. We all meet up here and have the craic. People are saying, ‘when are we getting back to our own wee hall.”
A third woman said the bingo had been going on in Galliagh for 41 years and attracted people from all over Derry as it was the last surviving parish bingo. “I can’t see why our hall is getting shut down,” she said. “Bishop Daly opened the first parish bingo in St Columb’s Hall and in The Stardust.
“We have been told the Friars will use the hall for vulnerable people but the old people of the parish are vulnerable people and we have to be looking after them,” she said.
The residents have vowed to continue with their protests until they are given equal access.
Fr. McCaughey told the ‘Journal’ yesterday that the hall had to be closed after Christmas because of heating problems. A temporary heating solution was installed but Fr McCaughey said this didn’t work.
“In mid-March I was contacted to say the heating system was faulty and we took professional advice and closed the hall immediately,” he said. “ Within days bingo was relocated to Carnhill at St Brigid’s Parish Centre, run by the Resource Centre.
“We stated that there would be a report published through time. That report came back to say that £80,000 needed to be spent on the hall. There needs to be extensive repairs to make it safe again. We reported that to our Finance Committee in late April/ early May.
“In the process, the Friars have undertaken to lease the hall in the time to come and to quote one of our councillors, ‘real life issues will be dealt with’. Councillors Tierney and Hassan have been very supportive and have met with our Finance Committee.
“The Friars of Renewal are committing themselves to work in this parish for the next number of years. They have said they will continue to acknowledge groups that have used the centre and real life issues will be addressed.”
Fr. McCaughey said the Parish Centre “will remain at the heart of Galliagh community” adding that there have been meetings with user groups, the Friars and the Finance Committee. At a recent meeting various opinions were expressed and heard and the process of trying to facilitate the various groups over the next few months in conjunction with the Friars of Renewal advanced. Most groups have been relocated.
Fr. McCaughey said the dialogue has been ongoing with the Resource Centre to try and address some of the concerns raised with bingo users.
A representative from the Finance Committee said it had been working with all groups to see how best to rehouse and accommodate them.
The representative said that bingo users aside, most other groups have been content with the alternative arrangements aimed at accommodating their needs as much as possible, and many of them have expressed their thanks.
The committee appreciated that some of those who attended bingo in Galliagh are annoyed that bingo has been relocated as a result of the closure due to health and safetyissues and future usage plans. The representative said that uses in future could include the Friars working with older people in the community, and that the Friars needed a bit of time to assess how best to meet the needs of the community. “They are interested in helping the people in our area,” the representative said. “This can be a win, win situation. We are trying to accommodate everyone and all the alternative facilities are all in the parish area.”
The representative added that there had been a specific meeting last week to try and address operational issues with the bingo.