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.