St Marys Hall Athlone was the scene of much excitement on December 16th last as Santa showed up with Christmas Greetings and presents for the children of residents from the Lissywollen Accommodation Centre.
His visit was the highpoint of an afternoon of fun and festivities which was organised by Westmeath Community Development, and the Gateway Project. It was the result of a big community effort with involvement from Athlone Community Development, Foroige and the Lissywoollen Residents Group, management and staff of the Lissywoollen Accommodation Centre and Athlone Women’s Network, who organised a fundraising walk and toy appeal in advance of the big day.
There was a serious side to the day as well. For adults and young people, the afternoon opened with a workshop for adults on Play and Childhood Development which featured presentations from Steve Goode, a consultant in the area of childcare and representatives of Irish Refugee Council. Their CEO Sue Conlon briefed members of the Lissywoollen Residents Group on a report they launched last September on the effects of living in Direct Provision on children. “The workshop has the potential to open up a strong dialogue between the Irish Refugee Council and the Lissywoollen residents Group which can only be a good thing” said Hubert Rooney, development worker with Westmeath Community Development.
For the children there was a fun dance workshop led by Artscope and a puppet show from Kids Party Club to get the day going
The star of the show of course was Santa Claus himself. He showed up just after 2.00pm, accompanied by Mrs Claus and was greeted by loud cheers and much excitement. He spent two hours being photographed with the children and giving Christmas greetings and presents to each family.
Leah Quinn of Westmeath Community Development said “I’d like to thank all the people who took part in the event and who helped out on the day. I would especially like to thank Bank of Ireland and Dermot Horan in particular who answered the Athlone Women’s Network Toy appeal. .”
Hubert Rooney added “Maria Hannigan and her staff in the Accommodation Centre did trojan work to ensure Santa arrived on time and fully supplied with presents. Also the members of the Lissywoollen Residents group deserve huge credit for their work today and for a whole range of other activities in the Accommodation Centre. It is not easy to keep up motivation in a Direct Provision setting, yet the Residents Group have managed to do so for well over a year and half now.”
This event was supported by Westmeath Community Development under the European Refugee Fund and the Local and Community Development Programme, funded by POBAL.