Celia Osowski’s placement with the Old Library Trust during her Northern Ireland Semester

Celia Osowski ’10 participated in the Northern Ireland semester during the spring 2009 semester and described her community placement in Derry / Londonderry.

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A central part of my semester in Northern Ireland has been my placement with a community organization. The purpose of this placement has been to give me first-hand experience working with a community group. This has been a very important element of my learning process because it has allowed me to experience the practical side of the theory-based learning I have experienced up to this point, and during this semester.

Historical Perspective and Current Realities

The OLT was founded in 2001 on the site of the former Creggan Public library. Throughout the troubles this library was never damaged by the community, the property was respected as a space not to be harmed. When the OLT began as a community health initiative on the site leased from the Derry City Council, they began to think about a name for themselves, but realized that the term “Old Library” had already stuck, and so the Old Library Trust was born. The beautiful new community health centre was completed in 2005. It contains the offices of the OLT staff as well as offices for the head start program, a crèche, a café, program rooms in several shapes and sizes to accommodate different program needs, a workout room, a dental suite, a therapy suite, and science classrooms. The building includes three shops on the street level that are rented by a local butcher, a hairdresser, and SureStart. The athletics hall was completed in 2008, and is stocked with various types of sport equipment as well as large locker room facilities. The OLT also oversees the use of a large all-weather pitch with floodlights.

Programmes

The Old Library Trust runs most of its programs on a season-by-season basis. George and Tommy run the athletic programmes, which include exercise classes such as kick-boxing and aerobics, as well as programs that teach healthy lifestyles in supportive groups (the ACES program) or in a one-on-one format (the Step Up program).

Relaxation programmes are an important component of the Trust’s offerings. Oasis is a women’s mental health support group. A meditation and relaxation class helps to teach relaxation techniques, as does a yoga class. Stress Busters is a stress management program that helps people to look at the causes of stress and teaches them ways to combat it. The Old Library Trust will also help people get in contact with the Lifeline program.

Health programs include a foot clinic, food hygiene classes, ante natal classes for parents-to-be, breast-feeding classes, a support group for people with respiratory conditions.

Continuing education courses include NVQ childcare certification, counselling workshops, community health educators training, and first aid.

Finally, recreations classes include a 50+ Dance Hour, Flower arranging, arts and crafts, recreational art, and a Chat’n’Chew Luncheon Club.

The work that I am doing deals mostly with a program called the Community Healing Programme, which operated from 2003-2005. The main part of this programme was a large research project on the effect of the Troubles on the health of the Creggan community. Other elements of the program included different support groups, creative writing and story-telling workshops, and healing of memories workshops.

My Involvement

My work at the OLT hasn’t been directly involved with the programmes being offered currently. I have been working on bringing together research done several years ago by OLT in the Creggan community into a cohesive, usable report. So my time at work has been split between shadowing Seamus and other members in meetings with funding bodies, steering groups, and program providers—and sorting through all the old research, transcribing interviews, researching the historical background for the events described in those interviews, and picking out the main themes to be discussed in the report.

Conclusion

Working at the Old Library Trust in Creggan allowed me to get to know a particular community of Derry in great detail. Through speaking to people who live and work in the Creggan, researching their history, and even just talking to the taxi drivers on the way home about their memories and perceptions of Creggan (many of them were born there), I was granted a deeper look at the particular history of the Troubles as they related to this small community, the current realities the community faces, the strengths and weaknesses in the community today, and it’s place in the larger picture of Derry in general.

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