Reflecting on years of frontline service

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Reflecting on years of frontline service

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COPE Galway has evolved considerably over nearly five decades of operation. From humble beginnings providing social services in Galway in the 1970s, we now employ in excess of 180 people, spanning generations – and even families – across multiple service areas and sites.

Many of our employees have dedicated themselves to serving our community through their work over decades with COPE Galway. Here, we meet three of the four* people who celebrated 20-25 years of service with COPE Galway in 2021.

Paudie, Colette and Helena have been on the front line of Ireland’s homeless crisis for over 20 years. During this time, they have seen tremendous changes in the organisation, in Galway, and in the kinds of clients they’ve served over the course of their decades of service.

“No two days are the same, which keeps you interested in the job, and keeps the work fresh”

Helena Ryan

Colette and Helena work in Osterley Lodge, which provides emergency accommodation for women in Galway. Paudie works in Fairgreen House, the corresponding service for men in need of short-term emergency accommodation. Paudie describes the Team Leader role as the ‘glue’ between clients and staff. Their wide-ranging responsibilities include day-to-day running of the hostels; key work with clients; emotional support, conflict resolution and helping clients to plan their next steps. 

“It’s about keeping [Osterley Lodge] as safe and calm a place as possible,” Colette said. “All the clients have different needs, and here we’re supporting women who have experienced trauma and end up in emergency services.” 

Paudie said he has an “an open-door policy and I make it my job to get to know all residents who come in through the service”. He added, “The men are always welcome to come in and sit with me and talk about what’s going on with them.”

All three have observed changes since they began working with COPE Galway, formerly known as Galway Social Services. In his 25 years with the local charity, Paudie said there has been a “huge shift in different types of clients with different problems”.  

“Complex cases are hitting our doors more often now.”

Echoing this, Colette said that Osterley Lodge also sees more clients who have experienced trauma.

Twenty years ago, Colette said, clients spent much less time in emergency accommodation because there were houses available for them to move into. Today, there is nowhere near enough houses and apartments in Galway to meet the level of need. The increased amount of time it now takes to move clients from emergency accommodation to a home of their own creates new challenges for staff and for other clients.  

Paudie said that balancing and managing care of clients and of staff is one of his biggest consistent challenges, and burnout is common in such a demanding line of work.  

“You have to be resilient to stay working in services this long,” Colette added. “It’s not an easy job and you have to develop coping skills.”

Self-care, a healthy work-life balance, the support of colleagues and a certain level of ‘positivity deep down,’ are essential, Colette, Helena and Paudie agreed. Helena said that COPE Galway’s senior management’s accessibility and openness to feedback are other significant factors. “I would never feel I couldn’t pick up the phone,” she said.

Despite the challenges, seeing the impact of their work keeps them going.

“The fact that it’s a local as opposed to a national service, a real Galway service, keeps the work close to the community,”

Helena Ryan

Over the years Colette, Helena and Paudie have learned to detach themselves from the ‘low points’ they experience that might stem from clients’ past trauma; instead, they hold on to the moments of connection. Not only every day but ‘every hour’ is different, Colette said, describing the ‘completely different levels and scenarios’ staff encounter in the space of a shift. “We’re there as a safe place for them and you see all facets of people in one day,” she said. 

Reflecting on the reasons they have dedicated their careers to this work, Paudie suggested

“There’s a certain makeup of an individual that can last this long. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know the recipe, I do know there has to be a lot of positivity deep down, I feel very privileged at times to know I can get on the phone and make something happen for one of the clients. It might be a very simple thing, but it’s good knowing that you can actually help. It might seem like a small thing, but the impact it has on the client [can be] huge.”   

*Donna (pictured, left) also celebrated 25 years of service at Fairgreen Hostel in 2021.

Congratulations to Helena, Colette, Donna and Paudie – thank you for your dedication and resilience throughout your long service to the Galway Community and your work at COPE Galway.

We are very proud of and offer a heartfelt thank you to all our staff for their passion, professionalism, skill and commitment in supporting people in Galway who are at a vulnerable juncture in their lives.

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