By David Hennessy
The boss of Camden’s Irish Centre David Barlow has defended it against charges that older service users are being made to feel unwelcome as it moves to new business models.
And he has said there is nothing wrong with his second in command moving to Ireland and staying in the post. Mr. Barlow – who has seen a number of members of staff depart the Centre in recent months – denied
that Camden, which was built by the local Irish community in 1954, has lost touch with its original brief to look after the more vulnerable members of the Irish community in London. It received £540,000 in funding from the Irish government.
“Our remit isn’t only the older Irish community, it’s the wider Irish community. I think it’s 53 per cent of our clients are under the age of 50 and we work with thousands of people every year so we want to use that space that is going to meet the needs of the widest possible community, including the older members of the Irish community,’ he said.
Last week Nora Mulready of Irish elders Network told The Irish World: “We find a lot of our clients and their families think they have been left behind and they have complained to us that places like the Irish Centre are not as welcoming to them as they once were.”
Mr. Barlow responded: “We work with thousands of older Irish people every year and it’s very important for us that we’re providing services that meet their needs. If people are concerned then I’d obviously like to
hear what their concerns are. If they’re being brought to somebody else, I’d rather they were directly brought to me so we could address them. I was a bit shocked to see that,” he said of reports that older service
users have complained of being made to feel unwelcome in Camden.
The Irish elders Network has operated at Irish Centre, Camden for 15 of their 20 years. Ms. Mulready approached the centre with a proposal to house the National Centre for older Irish People in Britain in a suite of offices and function room – the Kennedy hall – that is being vacated by a Spanish government-funded community group.
Mr Barlow said: ‘The Spanish government are still operating services most afternoons, evenings and weekends and will be until the end of September.
“Obviously, the Kennedy hall is the spiritual heart of the charity, the London Irish Centre, and the consulting with the community on what we want to do ourselves as an organisation with that space and our main aim really is to look at where the gaps are in service provision.
“Should we decide to ask for support from partner agencies and other Irish community agencies, we will do that later in the summer and we will put out a tender of what we’re looking for people to support us with and there will be an open fair process.”
The London Irish Centre in Camden will no longer have a London-based arts director. Gary Dunne, who has aimed to modernise the centre’s cultural events with initiatives such as comedy festivals, is moving to Ireland.
The Centre’s Chief Executive David Barlow has approved the move – Gary will retain his post and salary despite no longer being onsite- and says ‘there is no issue, what’s the point of chaining him to the desk’.
Mr. Barlow told The Irish World that this was always the centre’s strategy for the post.
“Part of our strategy is for that post, director of arts, is to actually operate across Ireland and here as well. We’re a modern charity, we’ve embraced communication technology and whilst people working with practitioners have to be desk based or office based, there’s absolutely no reason why that particular post has to be tied to a desk in any particular place.”