A TRI­UMPHANT DAY IN LAK­ERS HIS­TORY

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - NEWS - By MARY FOG­A­RTY

LAK­ERS had a launch and cel­e­bra­tion at their new fa­cil­ity last week, hav­ing re­lo­cated to Eglinton Road fol­low­ing a dev­as­tat­ing fire.

Their pre­vi­ous premises was de­stroyed in Oc­to­ber 2018 and last week, the recre­ational and sports club for chil­dren and adults with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties of­fi­cially opened the new fa­cil­ity.

Min­is­ter for Health Si­mon Harris was among those to visit the club last Wednesday.

Lak­ers pro­vides a sup­port network for over 400 mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, all of whom ex­pe­ri­enced heart­break on the morn­ing of Oc­to­ber 5 last year, when their premises of 11 years was rav­aged by fire.

The blaze also de­stroyed the club’s four minibuses, which were an in­te­gral life­line to the club’s day-to-day op­er­a­tions.

‘There was ut­ter dev­as­ta­tion felt right across the wider Lak­ers com­mu­nity, last Oc­to­ber,’ said Lak­ers chair­man Fergus Fin­lay. ‘Un­for­tu­nately, there are lit­tle or no so­cial, recre­ational or sports ser­vices pro­vided for peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties out­side those set-up by pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tions and char­i­ties. With­out Lak­ers, our mem­bers would have noth­ing – nowhere to go for so­cial in­ter­ac­tion and nowhere to learn and de­velop new skills. If Lak­ers ceased to ex­ist, the im­pact of removing that sup­port network would be detri­men­tal to mem­bers and their fam­i­lies,’ he said.

‘As dif­fi­cult as it was af­ter the fire, we all re­solved that we would build something much bet­ter than we had for our mem­bers. The com­mu­nity ral­lied around us in the most mag­nif­i­cent way. Our staff team worked around the clock to get ac­tiv­i­ties up and run­ning again, in a va­ri­ety of begged and bor­rowed lo­ca­tions, within days. Be­cause of the gen­eros­ity of the Pres­by­te­rian com­mu­nity in Bray, we were able to move into a new and bet­ter premises quickly, and we have devoted all our efforts to mak­ing that new premises as mem­ber-friendly as pos­si­ble. A phoenix rose from the ashes – and that couldn’t have hap­pened with­out the magic that Lak­ers in­spires in all of us. We are eter­nally grate­ful to those who came to our aid, when we needed it most.’

Fol­low­ing the fire, the Pres­by­te­rian Church in Bray of­fered Lak­ers the use of an old school­house – now home to their new premises on Eglinton Road in Bray. Through fund­ing re­ceived, Lak­ers were able to ren­o­vate the school­house and also re­place two of the minibuses lost in the fire – en­abling mem­bers to con­tinue with their sport, so­cial and recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties, just months af­ter their fu­ture was in doubt.

‘I am acutely aware of the im­por­tance of Lak­ers and the ser­vices it pro­vides to its mem­bers, their fam­i­lies and the wider com­mu­nity,’ said Min­is­ter Harris at the launch.

‘I vis­ited the Lak­ers team at the site of the fire last Oc­to­ber and the sense of loss was over­whelm­ing. Through sheer re­silience and de­ter­mi­na­tion to do ev­ery­thing in their power for their mem­bers, the Lak­ers team turned that ter­ri­ble in­ci­dent into a pos­i­tive. The club is back open seven days a week. Lak­ers mem­bers can boast over 230 Spe­cial Olympic medals and, no doubt, that fig­ure will now keep grow­ing.’

‘Lak­ers is a happy place, where we do lots of classes, make friends and meet new peo­ple,’ said mem­ber Ciara Fa­gan. ‘We learn to re­spect each other there. We are re­spected and we never feel alone. I love the choice of ac­tiv­i­ties and I feel safe at the club.’

Lak­ers orig­i­nally be­gan as Bray Lak­ers in 1989, when a small group of par­ents re­alised there were no sport or so­cial clubs for their chil­dren with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties.

What started with a small num­ber of mem­bers, man­aged by par­ents who vol­un­teered their time and skills, has grown into a club that now of­fers over 60 weekly classes, across 32 different ac­tiv­i­ties, for its mem­bers. With the help of its 160 vol­un­teers, Lak­ers mem­bers take part in on­site ac­tiv­i­ties, such as arts & crafts, dance, drama, com­puter skills, cook­ery, healthy liv­ing, mu­sic and mu­sic ther­apy, keep fit classes and pot­tery. The club also works with lo­cal fa­cil­i­ties for its mem­bers, such as golf clubs, leisure centres and sail­ing, ski and rugby clubs.

‘Our pri­or­ity is to get the club into a po­si­tion that al­lows us to cater for ev­ery per­son that con­tacts us, but due to our current lack of space, we have wait­ing lists for many of our ac­tiv­i­ties,’ said Fergus Fin­lay. ‘We want to create an in­clu­sive or­gan­i­sa­tion for any­one with an in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity, so they can have a choice in how they spend their time. The Lak­ers model is an ex­cel­lent one and all of us would love to see sim­i­lar clubs and ser­vices open­ing right across the coun­try. How­ever, none of that is pos­si­ble with­out reg­u­lar fund­ing and Lak­ers it­self won’t con­tinue with­out reg­u­lar fund­ing. To­day is a tri­umphant day in Lak­ers his­tory, but with­out con­tin­ued sup­port, none of this is pos­si­ble.’

Min­is­terSi­mon Harris opens the new fa­cil­ity, with Re­becha McAuley, Louis O’Rourke and Daniel Ryan.

The Lak­ers staff and team at the open­ing of theirnew fa­cil­ity on the Eg lin­ton

Claire Wrig ht, Ju­lia Cal­lan, Derek Kelly, John Kich­ford, Ciara Fag an and

Min­is­terSi­mon Harris with Mar­ian O’Rourke.

Min­is­terHar­ris with Patrick Hardig an and Gary Burton.

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