YOUNG people in Laois now have somehwere to go, hang out and call their own, as the new Youth Cafe is up and running. Open for the past few weeks, the Youth Cafe - as well as providing welcome respite for teenagers - also has a whole host of services and workshops for the youth of the county.
The Youth Cafe is run by Youth Work Ireland Laois who have been established in the county for the past few years. YWIL provide a wide variety of programmes for young people including photography and art workshops, as well as music workshops, mental health initiatives, drug and alcohol awareness programmes and a stepping up programme for young people making the transitition from primary into secondary school.
They also run Glee clubs in Abbeyleix, Mountrath, Mountmellick, Portlaoise and Stradbally. The Youth Cafe is not just for young people though, as there are a number of talks held for parents, coving topics such as child behaviour, and how to communicate with teenagers.
As well as youth workers, there are also a number of people volunteering at the Youth Cafe. All volunteers are interviewed and Garda vetted, as well as being trained as volunteers and in child protection awareness training.
YWIL also provide support to other youth clubs around the county, including Abbeyleix and Stradbally. They work in partnership with a number of other organisations including Laois County Council, Laois Partnership, the Gardaí, Laois VEC, Laois Drugs Network, the National Learning Network and a number of schools.
Speaking to the Leinster Express, Youth Work Ireland Laois project manager Joe Thompson emphasised that the Youth Cafe is for the youth, by the youth. “Young people get committee training and they decide what they want, it is all youth led”.
He said that plans are in place next year to visit schools to let even more people know about the Youth Cafe and its facilities.
“We want to make sure that all schools are represented we encourage young people from all over the county to visit. We are very inclusive here - all sections of society and all abilities - everyone is treated the same. Decisions are led by the group and decided by the young people”.
Joe is also delighted with the success of the Youth Cafe so far.
“It is a fantastic space for young people. They can meet friends and get involved in interesting programmes to make a difference in their own life, and the lives of their family and community”.
He was echoed by youth worker Aishling Hennessey who is also very excited about the new space. “I lived in Portlaoise as a teenager and I only wished that there was somehere like this for us to go”.
The young people are what it is all about, and they have been working tirelessly to get the most out of the space given to them. They are organising a gig for next Friday December 21, which will feature local students and DJs. The space they have is very versatile and can be changed from a place to lounge around to a gig venue.
Already a gig was held in the Youth Cafe, when well known local band Cramptown Spaces performed to a packed house. Of course YWIL have enjoyed great musical success over the past couple of years, doing very well at the Irish Youth Music Awards. In the new year, the group will be busy preparing for this year’s competition.
In the Youth Cafe, there is a stage set up and instruments to play for those who are musically minded and a snooker table, as well as computers and internet access.
The Youth Cafe committee are busy organising a number of events for the coming months, and are putting plans in place for a summer party, as well as Fifa tournaments, Black Ops tournaments, and a fashion show.
Committee member Lysagh Redmond is delighted with the new space. “I would live here if I could, it is the best place in Portlaoise”. Her sentiments were echoed by Joy Turley who said: “it is somewhere to get away”. Sean Laffan also said that the Youth Cafe is somewhere to get away from everything. Cathal Redmond said that it was a great place to relax, while Eirinn Fahy said: “it is somewhere different to meet up with friends”.
The Youth Cafe is open to all young people from around the county and people can come and go as they like. There are no restrictions and Joe said that people can “pick and choose” when they want to spend time there.
Although only set up a few weeks, young people have put their stamp on the space and are also planning on adding some colour to the walls with an art project. They are also hoping to organise a calendar of events so everyone can see what is happening and when.
Already this year, the group have achieved a lot, aside from opening their new state of the art cafe. They collaborated with Comhairle na nÓg on their Skills for Leaving Home booklet, which will be distributed to leaving Cert students across Laois next year. They completed the iMind conference which brought the likes of former governer John Lonergan to Portlaoise to talk to young people, and they completed a number of workshops with people from around the county.
YWIL already have plenty of big plans for next year, including a Laois Youth Day, which will be celebrating all the young people and youth clubs around the county, and their achievements. They are also hoping to do another mental health conference for young people as this summer’s one - iMind promoting positive mental health - was such a huge success in the Portlaoise Parish Centre during the summer.
Collaboration with Music Generation Laois will also be on the cards for 2013, as plans are afoot to set up a School of Rock, with weekly guitar and drumming tutition and performances as well.
For those not familiar with the Youth Cafe, it is situated above Subway in Portlaoise, on the second floor. Signs will be put in place soon. The Youth Cafe is open to young people from the ages of 12 to 18 on Thursdays from 4pm to 6pm, on Fridays from 2pm to 9pm and on Saturdays from 2pm to 5pm.
The Youth Cafe is currently looking at opening on Wednesday evenings to accomadate 10 to 12 year olds and it is hoped this will be set up in the new year. For more information on the Youth Cafe or Youth Work Ireland Laois, visit www.ywilaois.ie or search Portlaoise Youth Cafe on Facebook.