THE Pod Youth Resilience Project, in Togher, has been thriving since opening its doors to the public in February. Launched by Togher Family Centre, the project caters for up to 40 young people in the Togher area of Cork city.
Project coordinator, Stephanie Whiteford, says the project’s mission is to provide emotional, social and educational support, through creating a safe and empowering space for the young people of Togher.
Situated in the newly-developed housing estate, Shournagh Grove, The Pod takes residence in a dedicated community space named affectionately after one of Togher’s best-known and respected community advocates — Tom O’Sullivan.
Empowering and supporting the young people of Togher, in Tom O’Sullivan House, is a fitting tribute to the legacy of a man who was dedicated to supporting and promoting his community.
Tom O’Sullivan was a proud voice for the people of Togher and was always keen to promote his locality. Down through the years, Tom, from Deanrock Estate, highlighted Togher’s many good points while working extensively to resolve any issues that may have needed improvement.
For as far back as they can remember, Tom’s family say they have proud memories of the work their father, and many great people like him, did for the community.
Tom represented his own estate with passion and pride through his years as chairman of the Deanrock Residents Association. He was also chairman of the Togher Community Association for many years. Down the years, the association organised popular events, often hosted in The Ardmanning Bar, to raise funds for the Togher area.
A family spokesperson said: “When we were younger, we didn’t fully understand how important the work dad, and all the association members, were doing, but a lot of people benefitted as a result.”
From the early 1970s, Tom lobbied for the rights of council tenants to be upheld. He was an active campaigner for safe and suitable accommodation for tenants and for the maintenance of their homes by the local authorities. A firm believer in standing up for what is right, Tom was also very involved in workers’ rights and trade unionism, both in his workplace as a printer for The Cork Examiner and with council trade unions.
Mr O’Sullivan was actively involved in the campaign to deliver suitable and appropriate housing to the area, after the demolition of the Deanrock flats in 2007. He spoke publicly about the great community spirit and close family ties the residents of the N.B.A flats had in the area and urged local authorities to rehouse these residents in the locality where possible.
Tom also highlighted the need for the flats to be replaced with units fit for purpose for young families and with adequate social supports in place.
It would take more than 10 years of negotiations, planning and drafts before construction would begin on the Shournagh Grove scheme, and Tom was involved throughout.
Local councillor and community secretary, Fergal Dennehy, says that Tom played a pivotal role in the demolition of the Deanrock flats complex and worked tirelessly as a conduit between local residents, elected representatives and City Hall Officials.
“Tom often put his own welfare aside to ensure that issues of concern were addressed. He wasn’t a man to take no for an answer. The new housing estate and community facility at Deanrock are a testament to the decades of work that Tom and others put in.”
Fondly remembering one of the many Deanrock Regeneration briefings he would have attended with Tom, Cllr Dennehy recalls: “The brief was being touted as the road-map for the future development of the estate and promised many great things. I looked across the table at Tom and he smiled at me and said: ‘The words and promises are all great, but I’ll take it home and read it before I comment’.
“Tom had been a representative for many years and would never have been hoodwinked by words or false promises and, as it happened, he was right on that occasion.”
Mentioning Mr O’Sullivan’s representation of Togher with the Cork Community Development Institute, the Cork Community Forum and the RAPID (Rejuvenating Areas through Planning, Investment and Development) process, Cllr Dennehy notes: “Tom’s commitment to his community was second to none. He was a legend in the community and voluntary sector. I am very pleased that Tom’s legacy will live on, in Tom O’Sullivan House, as a reminder to us all that people working together for the community can achieve great things.”
Youth and Community worker, Cllr Thomas Moloney, remembers Tom O’ Sullivan as a visionary who could see the needs in his community: “He set about trying to tackle many of the community issues that were there at the time and, in doing so, made improvements on a multitude of issues.”
Tom was chairman of the Togher Garda Justice Programme (T.A.C.T) where Cllr Moloney worked as a youth worker in 2004.
“He would do a good turn for anyone, and often did. He was a great support to me personally at that time.
"A lot of the work that Tom did would sometimes go unnoticed by the wider community, however, the benefits for everyone were at the forefront of his thoughts.”
The independent councillor remembers Tom O’Sullivan as a mighty advocate who, once his mind was set on achieving something, had the ability to make council officials, gardaí and all concerned listen.
“It’s rare when an advocate of his calibre comes along and Togher is all the better for the countless things he did for the community. It is very fitting to have the community building in Shournagh Grove named after Tom.”
Tom’s wife, Rita, and his family are very proud to have Tom O’Sullivan House named in honour of the work Tom did for the community. They said: “Dad was not a man that wanted attention or praise for himself, everything he did, along with the other great people he worked with, was for the good of the community, but we are delighted that he is being acknowledged in this way.”
Within Tom O’Sullivan House, The Pod Youth Resilience Project now provides a relaxing, welcoming space for children, between the ages of 10 and 12, to come after school.
Stephanie Whiteford describes what the project involves: “When young people come to The Pod, they will have a hot dinner, prepared on site. They will have space to work on their homework, with the help of youth workers and will then have free time, or structured activities, with their friends.”
Stephanie says The Pod is a relaxing space for the children of Togher to come and be supported, whatever their needs.There are further plans for a counselling service and other community services to also be hosted in Tom O’Sullivan House.
The naming of Tom O’Sullivan House, in Tom’s honour, is bitter-sweet as Tom sadly passed away in January, 2019, before seeing the Shournagh Grove scheme completed.
Speaking in a short film, Accommodating Togher, made in 2005, Tom expressed his wish for the demolition of the N.B.A flats to result in more than simply knocking one pile of bricks and replacing it with another.
He stated that thought had to be given to the social infrastructure of the new housing scheme, highlighting the need for social workers and social supports to be in place.
With The Pod being described as “a bright light for Togher’s youth,” and future social support services in the pipeline for Tom O’Sullivan House, the vision and community spirit of Tom O’Sullivan will continue to shine over his beloved community for many years to come.