IN the heart of Ennis, volunteers spend Saturday nights working to bring some comfort to the struggling and suicidal.
At 8pm this and every Saturday evening, the Ennis Haven Hub opens, welcoming visitors and its volunteers will be answering calls and texts until 2am the next morning.
The Haven Hub has only been open in the town since spring of this year, and it is the third one in the country, according to its Welfare Officer Edelle Costelloe.
“There are three branches of the Haven Hub, there’s Limerick which is the headquarters, and there’s Ennis and Mitchelstown.
“The founder was Leona O’Callaghan. She assists in essential policy making, she also delivers training to communities, to our volunteers, to schools and organisations on mental health, first aid and wellness,” says Edelle.
The Ennis branch is in a very central area, at 51 O’Connell Street, across the road from Hillbilly’s and next to Pat McCarthy shoes.
Edelle says that most Saturday nights are rather hectic, with many people who are quietly struggling turning to the Hub.
“We’re busy at the moment. There’s a lot of pressure on people, there are people suffering from mental health issues due to the pandemic, that’s still going on.”
She stresses that the Haven Hub will help anyone who needs it, and while it is a suicide prevention group, there is more to it than just that.
“We’re not just concerned with suicide, we’re also encouraging people to come in if they’re sitting at home in a cold house.
“Come in for a chat, have a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits. It’s about encouraging people to come and have a chat and get out of the house if they’re alone on a Saturday night.”
Sometimes people may have such a negative view of themselves that they won’t go and look for the kind of support the Haven Hub can give, she thinks.
“I think a lot of people would feel they’re not worthy of help, their self esteem is so low. We’re really appealing to people to come and talk to us, it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. You’ll be dealing with volunteers who are well trained, that are very empathetic and caring. Our service is free and we want people to know that they’re not alone.”
People who have concerns about a family member are also very welcome.
“We would encourage family members if they’re concerned about a loved one, to come into us, sit down and have a chat.”
The organisation is based solely on voluntary effort, but it can play an important role for those who are at serious risk of self harm or suicide.
“It’s an after hours support centre for people who are struggling to cope or who are at risk of suicide. Trained volunteers can help people come up with a safety plan to keep themselves safe.
“We’re a voluntary organisation and the volunteers are the backbone of the organisation. They volunteer to provide emotional support via SMS, calls and email. Basically without the volunteers we wouldn’t be open, they’re our main asset.”
Every week there are three volunteers at 51 O’Connell Street, helping those who need support.
However, as a relatively new organisation, there is lots more to do outside of those hours, spreading the word to a public who may be unfamiliar with what it offers, trying to recruit and train new volunteers and fundraising.
The organisation’s director is Eric Culligan, and Edelle says that he is hugely committed to developing it in Ennis.
“He works tirelessly every day, he’s so passionate about mental health. I find him so wonderful to work with because he has such a passion for mental health and he’s full of positivity and enthusiasm.”
At the moment the organisation has around 15 volunteers in Ennis, including some students of counselling at the Irish College of Humanities and Applied Sciences.
Those involved currently come from a range of backgrounds are involved, and no specific experience or qualifications are needed, but one requirement is that any prospective volunteer be at least 23 years of age.
That age requirement is important, Edelle feels.
“I suppose it allows for a level of maturity and life experience. Life experience is so important, with age you have more experience to draw on, rather than just drawing on textbooks.”
There is huge satisfaction in seeing someone becoming more comfortable after visiting the Haven Hub, she says.
“It’s fantastic when people come in with their heads and shoulders down, but then walk away with their head high and a smile on their face, knowing they’re not alone. It’s powerful and fundamental.
“The reason I joined the Haven Hub is to make a difference. I’m really interested and passionate about helping people, and the simple act of one human listening to another is so powerful and can and does save lives.”
She says that the reason for the Saturday night opening time is that it is a time when suicide can be particularly prevalent. However the hours in Ennis are still limited, and they want to be open longer.
“People who need the help often fail to get it and the demand overwhelms the supply. The need for care far extends beyond one charity and the most important step we can take in 2022 and beyond is giving all people access to our services.
“We’d like to be open on Friday nights as well as Saturday nights, but that’s about getting more volunteers. If anyone has two nights a month to help people in need, we would love to have them on board and they would undergo training.”
The training is designed to equip volunteers with the skills to talk to people who are struggling, while there is also child protection training.
“Anyone who would be interested in helping, and who would have the time, is asked to go online to www.havenhub.ie/volunteer.
As well as looking for new volunteers, the Haven Hub would like to get a new premises, which would be more easily accessible for people with disabilities or limited mobility.
“We’re looking for a ground floor premises in Ennis, so we’d like to put a call-out there for that as well,” says Edelle.
Anyone who does get involved is likely to get an awful lot out of it, she reiterates.
“It’s very rewarding when you’ve helped somebody. You get a sense of achievement when somebody walks out of there and you know that they’re safe.
“The key is to get people to keep talking. Open up. Talk. We don’t judge anyone. We’re all fragile beings underneath it all and everybody has their life struggles. It’s for people to understand that, and it’s a friendly place to come to.”
She says that those coming in will be assured of confidentiality, while she also stresses that there is no judgement.
“Come in, we’re here, and we really want to help. There are a lot of people struggling out there. We don’t judge, we’re here to help and you’re not alone.”
Ennis Haven Hub is open every Saturday night from 8pm to 2am at 51 O’Connell Street, while it can be contacted during those hours on 089 4073370.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.