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A Newry Social Enterprise that helps young people access facilities to safeguard their mental health while interacting with people their own age received a visit yesterday from Professor Siobhan O'Neill, the Northern Ireland Mental Health Champion as well as the Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Cllr Cathy Mason. Both visitors were incredibly taken by the inspirational group of young people involved in the enterprise.

Crisis Café ambassadors speaking at their new premises at Edward Street in Newry.
Crisis Café ambassadors speaking at their new premises at Edward Street in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Crisis Café opened in August and started its life in The Think Lab at Newry and Mourne Enterprise Agency but moved to new premises in the Sticky Fingers building on Edward Street in the city yesterday.

Crisis Café was set up by Louise Quinn and Grainne Graham, social workers with over 20 years experience in the area of trauma, mental health and working with young people. The service is for 11-18 year old's but young people who have used it can stay on after 18.

Louise explained "I suppose for years young people were telling us that they can't access mental health services when they need it. There's long waiting lists, there's demand for services, and really they want a service that's accessible, that they can come along to without referral, and have that service when they feel they need it."

Pictured in the new Crisis Café premises at Sticky Fingers are front: Cllr Cathy Mason, Chairperson, Newry, Mourne and Down Council and Prof Siobhan O'Neill, NI Mental Health Champion. Bacl: Louise Quinn, Founder Crisis Café; Grainne Powell, Sticky Fingers and  Grainne Graham, Founder Crisis Café.
Pictured in the new Crisis Café premises at Sticky Fingers are front: Cllr Cathy Mason, Chairperson, Newry, Mourne and Down Council and Prof Siobhan O'Neill, NI Mental Health Champion. Bacl: Louise Quinn, Founder Crisis Café; Grainne Powell, Sticky Fingers and Grainne Graham, Founder Crisis Café.

In 2020 they set up a young advisory group to work out what form the Crisis Cafe would take. The group looked at a friendship cafe in Belfast for people from other countries who were very isolated and they liked the idea of a crisis drop in where young people could come and have support when they needed it and that became the Crisis Café model in Newry.

The Crisis Café is first and foremost a Café, a drop in social setting for young people, but when they are there they can get one to one crisis support from mental health social workers or mental health practitioners, clinical support but in a non clinical environment.

Louise added "If they feel they can't or they aren't ready to have that one to one support it's a very quiet sort of Café and they can just sit shut off from the outside world. They might come a few weeks before they feel they can access the one to one support."

Crisis Café users meet with NI Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O'Neill and Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down Council, Cllr Cathy Mason in their new premises at Sticky Fingers in Newry.
Crisis Café users meet with NI Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O'Neill and Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down Council, Cllr Cathy Mason in their new premises at Sticky Fingers in Newry.

A friendship café runs alongside. It's led by the young people themselves and they all draw upon their own experiences, talents and interests and fend for themselves and look after others within the café. Already participants have got involved in art, photography, media, and drama. A group of them even recorded a concert last week.

The idea is to nurture and encourage all the talents they already have, but sometimes because of their mental health they don't have the confidence to do the things they're so good at. This really helps them, and helps others look after their own mental health.

Crisis Café ambassadors speaking at their new premises at Edward Street in Newry.
Crisis Café ambassadors speaking at their new premises at Edward Street in Newry.

Inspirational

Professor O'Neill spoke of the inspiration she picked up from her visit yesterday "Today has been fantastic. It's just really exciting to meet an inspirational group of young people who have grown the Crisis Café from the ground up. It's exactly what we need, to support young people and connect them with services and extra help if they need that, so I'm inspired and I want to see one of these in every high street in Northern Ireland if possible."

Spring in my step

Council Chairperson, Cllr Cathy Mason also plans to see what the Council can do to help "It's been absolutely fabulous to visit here today. It's been great to listen to these young people, they are an absolute inspiration, the work that they're doing, the projects that they're getting involved in. I'll be going away today with a spring in my step just to go back to the Council and see what we can do to help the likes of these groups, because we need more and more of them."

Mental Health Ambassadors

Last year the organisation put a call out for Crisis Cafe mental health ambassadors to try and get one or two young people from each school in the area to be ambassadors and help forge a link with the school's and get word out about the service and how accessible it was. Within the first couple of weeks they had 250 Ambassadors registered.

Our Lady's

Caragh Gray and Orlath O'Hagan from Our Lady's Grammar School in Newry were two of the young people to take on the ambassador role.

Caragh explained "Our school, Our Lady's Grammar School have teamed up and are working with the Crisis Café to create a Wellness Centre, somewhere that people can go in school with their anxieties and struggles just to take a few minutes out and to have some time to themselves or to talk to someone if they need it."

Orlath O'Hagan and Caragh Gray who have created a wellness centre at Our Lady's Grammar School w
Orlath O'Hagan and Caragh Gray who have created a wellness centre at Our Lady's Grammar School w

Orlath added "It's to help join with the community to spread awareness on health around Newry and in school's, especially because we have seen that in school's there is not that much mental health support recently and it has become such a big thing especially in the younger generation. We thought it would be a great idea especially with the Crisis Café to make a place that helps promote mental health in our school."

Caragh thinks every school should get involved "I think it should be something that's in every school because it is so important. Mental health is becoming increasingly important, especially with COVID and people have been in the house by themselves and have had nowhere to go or no one to talk to, that they have that space in school where they can take themselves out if they're struggling in school.

Orlath added "It's such an adaptable thing. It wouldn't be hard for other schools to build on, and even if they don't have the room for an actual centre like we do they could even have a committee or a team with knowledge of mental health matters. Crisis Café would definitely help other school's as well."

Over 400 young people are now registered with Crisis Café and when they sign up they also become ambassadors for the service.

Louise explained "They all know that it's okay to come, they know it's ok to access that support and what we're finding is it's really overcoming barriers and reducing stigma and they're saying to their friends you can come along and chat about that."

Grainne and Louise are pleased that the service means they're getting in earlier, helping to deal with young people's issues, before they reach a real crisis point for them. "They're coming now and talking to you about things that could have or would have escalated previously" said Louise.

Ruairi Hanna who baked a selection of amazing treats for the Crisis Café visitors.
Ruairi Hanna who baked a selection of amazing treats for the Crisis Café visitors.

The Future

Stephen McClelland from Newry and Mourne Co Operative and Enterprise Agency helped set the organisation up and signposted them through a Council funded programme.

Grainne Powell from Sticky Fingers is looking forward to the enhanced vibrancy the young people will bring to their building and Louise and Grainne believe it is really going to help secure the future of the Crisis Cafe in Newry for the young people.

Opening Hours

The Crisis Drop In is open 12pm to 4pm on Sunday and on Sunday morning from 10.30am to 12pm they run a programme for 11 to 13 year olds.

 Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down Council, Cllr Cathy Mason with Louise Quinn and Grainne Graham, founders of  Crisis Café pictured with users from left Lana Salinger, Harry Collins, D.J. Gallagher, Odhran McAllister and Jack McAree. in their new premises at Sticky Fingers in Newry.
Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down Council, Cllr Cathy Mason with Louise Quinn and Grainne Graham, founders of Crisis Café pictured with users from left Lana Salinger, Harry Collins, D.J. Gallagher, Odhran McAllister and Jack McAree. in their new premises at Sticky Fingers in Newry.

The Friendship Cafe is open Thursday from 4pm to 8pm.

It's hoped that opening hours can be extended through further funding and from proceeds of the Sticky Fingers Café which they will be taking over. Louise said "We are a social enterprise and when we were over in the Enterprise Agency we didn't have an actual cafe, so now that we have moved here that has given us an opportunity. When Sticky Fingers reopens in mid September we hope to open the café during the day for the footfall coming through for Sticky Fingers and to the public so that will generate income to be able to open the Crisis Cafe more often in the evenings and the weekends."

Crisis Café ambassadors speaking at their new premises at Edward Street in Newry.
Crisis Café ambassadors speaking at their new premises at Edward Street in Newry.

Lockdown

Crisis Café started a pilot in August and opened in Newry in early October. They had just opened when lockdown happened and everything moved online which worked very well for them.

Louise said "What happened then was the young people each week picked a topic that impacts upon youth mental health. They looked at things like discrimination, diversity, body image and school stress so every week they did posts to the different topics."

Lockdown saw user numbers increase with parents and young people contacting them to access support.

Contact Them

Crisis Café are located at 1a Upper Edward Street. Newry, BT35 6AX (Sticky Fingers Building). You can contact them at info@crisiscafe.co.uk or telephone 077 0346 6075

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