Citizen’s Assembly Submission MTCT June 2023

Matt Talbot Community Trust is a Community Education Programme working with adults in recovery from addiction. This submission is a culmination of a series of discussions with a group with lived experience of addiction and drug use discussing the remit of the Citizen’s Assembly on Drug Use. In this video they address the question – what can be done by the State to reduce the harm of illicit drug use to the individuals, families, communities and the wider community. The group discussed many aspects, in this video they discuss the key points that they felt impacted them most including decriminalisation, support for women in accessing services and access to treatment and rehabilitation. The video can be found at . The discussions in general were solution focused and one of the solutions that the group intend to implement is a women’s “walk and talk” group offering peer to peer support. Its aim is to reduce the fear, stigma and isolation experienced by women affected by addiction and to encourage them to access services in a non-judgmental environment where they feel safe and supported. This group will be peer led and open to all women to join. This is one of a number of suggestions that the participants in Matt Talbot Community Trust will focus their thinking on over the coming months. The most important outcome to these discussion is that we have solutions at local level. What we need is for our Government to listen and be prepared to recognise that lived experience has to be acknowledged in how policy is developed and reflected in how drug programmes are funded.

All participants have given their permission to share this recording

Please view the video using this link

Ambassador Cronin’s Visit MTCT 5th May 2023

On a sunny Friday afternoon in early May 2023, the participants and staff of the Matt Talbot Community Trust were delighted to have Ambassador (USA) Claire Cronin visit the centre and have a discussion and enjoy a hearty welcome. Here’s the speech that Grainne Jennings, MTCT Director gave to introduce and welcome Ambassador Cronin which really paints a picture of what the Matt Talbot is about:

I would like to warmly welcome Ambassador Cronin to our nearly finished centre. This means that you have to make a second journey here when we finally cross the finish line.

Ambassador you come to us with a distinguished career that includes being the first woman to serve as House Majority Leader in the House of Representatives. Advocating for increased education funding and working extensively on improving access to mental health and substance abuse services, and advancing civil rights. You are among friends here.

Established in 1986, Matt Talbot has been a key support both to the people of Ballyfermot and to the wider environs for nearly forty years.

Our origins were founded within the Dominican tradition of education. We started with an understanding of what education is really about,  that being,  to draw out from within, as a liberator of skills, and knowledge that exists within each of us. Our key task was and remains to be the facilitator and guide towards a pathway whereby each persons who walks though our doors recognises their own potential and in the building of confidence and self-belief is liberated.

Today we our standing in a building that was born out of sheer determination to keep going against all odds. With little resources, completely reliant on volunteerism we have slowly edged forward to starting to realise our vision of a centre and programme designed around the needs of our group that challenges traditional learning methods and places the individual at the core of all learning. AS our work progresses, participants will see that the potential for learning is happening all around them both from internal and external spaces. It will become a learning environment that encourages discussion and ownership at all levels, encourage critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork, will be peer led, trauma informed and incorporates lived experience as the expertise in how we approach our programme design.

We need to find a name that will fully acknowledge and explain what our journey is about and the road that we are currently travelling on. It centres on creating value both to the individual and the wider community and most importantly has the potential to create the leaders of tomorrow.

It has taken us years to reach this place but it is starting to feel more and more real as each day passes.

As many will know there were times when it felt that the system had beaten us.

Post austerity, our staffing levels fell by 50%, budgets were cut and essential programmes such as our family programme were shelved.

In late 2018 a devastating fire left us without this building for upwards of four years. As I stood outside the building the morning after the fire I tried to take in what had happened. My greatest sadness was not that we had lost a vital facility but that the memory of all the people who had walked the corridors, sat with us around the dinning table, trusted us each and every day was gone. Memories of the people who had passed too early that could never be replaced. Their voices and laughter ringing in my ear.

It is at your lowest moment that you realise what true humanity is about.

Slowly but surely people started to stand with us with offers of support. To start to name them would take me beyond the time of this visit. Names sometime mean little when you don’t let them know how it felt to be at the receiving end of this support.

At our most vulnerable we were shown care and love beyond measure. At times it felt like someone was holding our hand and telling us all will be okay because we’ve got you.

It created breathing space that allowed us to dream and start to realise our vision.

It meant that others outside our own Matt Talbot community cared what happen and placed value on the lives of those within these walls. That was quite an alien feeling but gave us all confidence to keep trusting that all things are possible.

Today I am wearing purple to represent and tell the story of recovery.

Each of us in the room today are in recovery of some sort and that is what binds us together at our core.

We do not deal in labels here but people. We recognise that we all have the capacity to learn from each other and from this our lives become transformed.

We talk about the building of enduring relationships and as I look across the room I see faces that have been in my life for many years. We have grown together.

To me Matt Talbot is based on love and we should not be afraid to say this out loud.

Something quite unusual and unique happens here. We have staff that have dedicated their life to this work and organisation. Mark you are someone whose energy and desire to keep moving forward and evolving our programme and approach humbles me. For thirty years you have kept going and continue to go above and beyond for each person sitting here.

Michael you are a powerhouse who at times puts us all to shame. Your capacity to care for others in times of need knows no bounds.

I feel that I have been given the privilege to be part of this community and to have walked a journey with many people here that has enriched my life beyond measure. I look forward to what the next years bring for us but know that what at times seems impossible will come to us.

I have talked enough and know that I will never to be to truly capture what Matt Talbot is as there are people here that can do that much more ably than me.

I would like to invite John to talk to us about his time with Matt Talbot. Just to say he has been part of our community for nearly as long as both Mark and myself

The speech was followed by joyful discussion, and presentation of John’s copper engraving piece of art of Danu, goddess from Irish mythology, to Ambassador Cronin. A memorable occasion and opportunity to celebrate the journeys of participants in the Matt Talbot Community Trust.

We are Digital Champions!

Our commitment to enable our participants become digitally literate led us to participate in the first digital inclusion week in Ireland organised by An Cosan. Listen here to our staff member, Karen McDonagh, as she explains why digital skills are a basic necessity in our time and click here to listen to our fantastic participant, Pamela, who explains how becoming more digitally skilled has improved her life!

We look forward to continue collaborating with An Cosan in the future!

Our mention in the Financial Times’ article with Jessie Buckley

We are yet again humbled by all the love and care received from our ambassador, the unique Jessie Buckley! In her latest interview with the Financial Times, Jessie mentioned our organization and what we mean to her: ‘For me, it’s another family. Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever struggles you have, how little you have in your pocket, it doesn’t matter, it’s a door that is always open to help and to nurture.’

Our director, Grainne Jennings, is also cited in the article, mentioning the incredible help Jessie Buckley has given us in fundraising for the refurbishing of our main building that recently went on fire. And while Jessie’s effort in helping us financially has been invaluable, Grainne acknowledges that ‘The level of humanity that she brings to the table and the empathy. She has a wonderful capacity to tune into the unsaid.’ Follow this link to read in full this exciting, in-depth interview With Jessie Buckley.

And if you resonate with our cause, we invite you to donate and help us fully build the center again. You can do so following this link.


Project-Based Learning Experience: Interviewing Jessie Buckley

As part of our Project Based Learning programme, we have initiated a series of ‘In Conversation with…’ podcasts that give our participants the opportunity to interview prominent public figures. This project was created to enable participants to apply and develop the communication skills they learn in workshops conducted by journalist Aura McMenamin.

On the 4th of May we had the opportunity to have a conversation with Hollywood star Jessie Buckley which was conducted by one of our participants. On our website, you will find a brief interview in which our participant shares his thoughts on communication, the project-based learning approach, and on interviewing Jessie Buckley!

I: Hi, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

P: I’m 35 years of age, I have three kids, who are 19, 12 and 7-months. I’m from Ballyfermot, I lived there all my life. As a person I would be friendly and smiley, I would talk to anybody and I am open minded.

I: I would also say that you are a very humorous person and always make people laugh

P: Well you can tell a lot from laughing. If someone goes through a serious situation, you can kind of laugh at it but you’re also recognizing it as one of them things. You can’t take life too seriously, but it has to be done in the right manner and at an appropriate time.

I: What do you think about communication?

P: Communication is extremely important. People think differently, people take up conversations or different situations probably more seriously than other people. You need to know how to communicate. If you go around and you don’t know how to communicate, it can affect your family; you might come out roaring and it pushes you to anger. With me, I didn’t really communicate as a teenager, and I’ve seen the effects of that and in a lot of friends too, who ended up committing suicide. And I think it comes down to not talking. Suicide happens especially in the area where I come from. I suppose whatever life they are living they can’t really communicate and they are probably disconnected. With me, I head to learn my feelings again. I couldn’t pinpoint what I was that I was feeling and so anger kind of fuelled me. I was very fearful but couldn’t show it so I was angry.

I: Do you think communication skills can be learned?

P: It is never too late to learn it. I don’t know where I lost my communication, in what part, or stage or life but I lost it somewhere along the line. But yes, you can pick it up bit by bit, probably taking me a while but you are getting there.

I: Can you give us an example where you learned these communication skills?

P: When I attended my communication workshops with Aura, before interviewing Jessie, I don’t think I could have done it as confidently. When you do stuff, it builds up your confidence.

I: So do you link communication with confidence?

P: Definitely. See people I would talk to, if I was in a job situation and was talking to a manager I would feel like a little child. But if you see me talking to someone out there I’d put up a show. Because you’re not used to talking to someone who is well educated, you feel less, you’re looking at your toes and you are shy.

I: What did you learn in your communication workshops with Aura?

P: I found the workshop with Aura very interesting. I learned how to turn a conversation around. How to get a conversation to go the way you want it to go, without being blunt about it. Which is a good skill to have in your daily life.

I: How was interviewing Jessie Buckley?

P: I was very nervous. I had my questions written down but I had to get rid of the sheets and I was doing it freely. When you talk to someone like that you think they are in Hollywood but really, they are just the same as you. Everybody is the same. And when you get outside your area you think you are not capable and you don’t fit in so its nice to talk with someone like that.

I: What did you enjoy the most about it?

P: I really enjoyed just talking to her in general and then it was that pushing yourself over that barrier of doing this kind of thing. And when you’ve done it you can give yourself praise and get praise from others; I think that’s a big thing too. So, I think pushing little barriers like that allows you do other things.

I: How did you find this learning experience (project-based learning) in comparison to traditional ways of learning?

P: I do think you have to put learning in practice. You can read a book all day long – I mean I can read a book all day about going to space but it doesn’t mean I can go to space. You can research stuff all day but doing it is the way to learn. And the confidence too, you are applying it. You are not going to be thinking it about doing it, you would have had it done.

I: Where do you see yourself in the future?

P: For me to be doing something it has to have a meaning. I could see myself working in my community. I can see myself being a helpful person, I like helping people and I seem to have connection with people especially in my area, who struggle with mental health.

I: Thank you so much, I am sure that is something that will happen.


Working with the Matt Talbot Community Trust: Aura McMenamin

I was honoured to hold Interview Skills workshops for members of the Matt Talbot Community Center. As a former journalist, speaking to people from all walks of life was an integral part of the job, and I was happy to share my tips and guidelines for preparing and conducting an interview. For one of the first talks in March, Irish actress Jessie Buckley was invited to speak. I hosted the first workshop with four participants. In April, I had a workshop with another participant who would be interviewing Senator Lynn Ruane.

They were very confident, enthusiastic and inquisitive when taking on each exercise and task. I got them to think of questions they would ask any person, alive or living, of their choosing. Later, I got them to interview each other. Lastly, their homework was to research their speaker and come up with questions by themselves or add questions from their peers before we met for part two of the workshop.

During both workshops, they all asked probing and original questions. They took on the feedback really well. A common thing I heard was, “I’m doing something out of my comfort zone.” Interviewing someone, much less publicly on video, is nerve-wracking, but they all did a great job. They’re all strong speakers, with their own stories to tell, their own unique perspectives and the ability to relate to others.