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The former Magdalene Laundry site on Forster Street is to be converted to a refuge for sufferers of domestic violence.
It was announced this morning that the Sisters of Mercy Convent at 47 Forster Street will become the new location for Waterside House, the Domestic Violence Refuge operated and managed by COPE Galway.
Earlier this year, COPE Galway approached the Sisters of Mercy about the site and the Sisters have responded by donating the property to the charity on a 99-year lease for the benefit of women and children in Galway.
Speaking about the announcement, CEO of COPE Galway Jacquie Horan said she could not express how “delighted and relieved” she was about the opportunity.
“Our existing refuge, Waterside House, has been unfit for purpose for many years. The building comprises ‘bedsit’ style accommodation, which forces families to live in one large room without access to basic cooking facilities during their stay,” she explained.
“Although the current refuge offers safety and security to women and children escaping in an emergency situation, and this is obviously of the utmost importance, this type of living arrangement is totally unfit for purpose and families in a state of distress deserve better.”
Ms Horan explained that the organisation approached the Sisters of Mercy as they believed the location of the convent site, the security aspects and the potential to renovate all pointed to its suitability as a possible alternative to Waterside House.
“The synergy between the history of the site and the current reality for Waterside House clients, and the fact that the Galway Rape Crisis Centre has been on the site for some time already also led us to believe that the convent site offered real potential.”
She added that, in addition to the structural issues and limitations of the Waterside House building, the capacity of the current refuge is also inadequate.
During 2012, Waterside House accommodated 100 women and their families but did not have sufficient capacity to accommodate a further 200 referrals of women and families, who had to be referred elsewhere for safety and support.
“Finding a suitable property has been the absolute number one priority for the Board of COPE Galway for a number of years now,” said John Concannon, Chairman of COPE Galway.
“Such a facility naturally has some very specific requirements, so despite the number of vacant properties available, the majority were not suitable for issues of security or other reasons. The Board joins with me in expressing our sincere gratitude to the Sisters of Mercy for donating this wonderful property.”
He continued to thank all those who helped the organisation in its search for a suitable facility over the past number of years and inviting the wider community in Galway to help COPE Galway to secure the resources needed to redevelop the site.
“Financing the project will be a challenge, but we believe it is an exciting and positive challenge for Galway and we will be inviting everyone to join us in converting this opportunity into a reality,” he said.
COPE Galway has only very recently gained access to the property and will conduct a detailed examination of the site to ascertain its long term suitability as a domestic violence refuge, both in terms of size and design, as well as the costs involved in turning the building into a safe home for women and children suffering from domestic violence.
“Following our five year search, we are delighted to be at this point in the process, although we know that we still have a long and expensive road ahead of us. We will be undertaking a major drive to raise the necessary funds and in-kind donations and will be appealing to the community of Galway to help us create that ‘home’ for some of the most vulnerable women and children in our community,” said Ms Horan.