Today’s connected world is a challenging one to be growing up in. According to the ‘Goldilocks’ hypothesis, while a moderate level of digital media engagement is beneficial to mental wellbeing, lower or higher levels may be detrimental for the mental wellbeing of teenagers today. While research is ongoing into just what exactly a ‘moderate’ and safe level of digital engagement is, a number of studies are showing that the pandemic years have had a serious impact on the deteriorating mental health of Ireland’s ’Generation Covid’ and our adolescent mental health services are severely stretched with long wait times. In this challenging environment, spaces such as the Clonakilty Youth Centre, which opened its doors in a new state-of-the-art building last September, offer young people from all backgrounds a safe and inclusive space in which to socialise, engage and get support if needed.
Located on the bypass at Deasy’s Car Park, so within easy walking distance to town, the community space is available for a variety of youth services, groups and organisations, as well as just being a safe space for young people to simply hang out with each other.
It took two decades of petitioning, fundraising and hard work by a dedicated committee and the local community for this youth centre project to reach fruition, but the youth of Clonakilty and surrounding areas are now reaping the rewards of having a dedicated space in a state-of-the-art fully accessible building.
Issues identified by the young people attending the YMCA youth service, which operates a space in the youth centre called ‘The Shack’ show that some of the most challenging societal pressures placed on them include identity, friendships and fitting in, exam stress and judgement by people and anxiety and mental health with the role of social media being a big contributing factor.
Coordinator and Youth Worker at YMCA Carbery Youth Service, Cindy Kingston is based full-time at the Clonakilty Youth Centre.
“The YMCA Carbery youth service provides a youth-led, inclusive, relaxed and welcoming space where the young people who visit can be heard,” she explains.
When asked to give feedback on the benefits afforded them by the centre, most of the responses from young people mentioned talking to people and getting support and engaging with their own peers in activities like music and games.
”Socialising and making friends can be tricky but usually it’s easy at the shack cause everyone is so welcoming.”
“I like playing the guitar…and it really helps with my confidence and social skills.”
“I get to do my homework and play games.”
“Talking to people like Luke make you feel more safe and comfortable.”
“I come here to study and meet people. Talking to people is really helpful and makes things less stressful.”
“It helps calm me down and helps me be myself.”
“The young people feel at ease and comfortable here,” says Cindy. “While the services are adapted based on the needs of the young people, we focus a lot on mental health and physical wellbeing and many of the youth who attend regularly are now flourishing in these areas. One person commented to me the other day that this is their ‘new safe space’.”
There are two other part-time YMCA youth workers at the centre: Ronan McCann is in charge of the music and recording studio and Luke Murray runs the ‘Rainbow Folx’ group, a social and befriending support group for LGBTI+ young people and allies in Clonakilty.
From sexual health to fitness classes, workshops in songwriting, film making, self-care and art therapy to pizza and quiz evenings and community art projects, all of the activities are organised based on the requirements of the youth.
“We are also available for one on one sessions, giving help and direction with CVs, employment or simply helping with homework,” says Cindy.
The YMCA Carbery youth service will be running a Music Production and Songwriting six-week programme with local composer and musician Justin Grounds, on Thursdays, starting on February 16. On Mondays, for eight weeks, starting on Monday, February 13, the service will be running a youth leadership course for youth aged over 15, to encourage them to take on youth leadership roles in the space, which in turn helps them develop as young people. (To book a space on these programmes contact 086 0327866 or email@example.com)
“I think young people have definitely struggled with finding their sense of place again in the world after Covid,” shares Cindy. “Having a safe and positive environment for them to come meet their peers, make new friends and discover differences and similarities with other young people helps them to grow.”
Future plans for the youth centre include expanding on the current facilities, to create a larger space for meetings and activities, and to expand upon and complement the existing multi use games area (MUGA ) adjacent to the youth centre at Deasy’s car park.
Committee member Paul Hayes says that Foroige will be up and running in the youth centre shortly and there are also plans to make music lessons, computer and IT classes available, as well as slots for other groups and organisations such as the Red Cross.
“Great credit is due to the hard working voluntary committee who have worked so hard over many years to bring this fantastic facility to fruition and also to Margaret Shanahan architect and Kirby Construction for their expertise and support all the way through the building project.”
To contact the youth centre about bookings or for information email firstname.lastname@example.org