Teach Solais LGBT+ resource centre in Galway city
The West of Ireland’s only LGBT social space is in danger of being quietly extinguished.
John Donlon writes:
You might be forgiven for thinking, as you enter its unassuming premises off Galway’s Eyre Square, that Teach Solais is not a hugely consequential space.
Nothing could be further from the truth however, as this humble venue persists as the only LGBT space of its kind in all of the West of Ireland.
The result of years of hard work and planning on the behalf of Amach! LGBT Galway, even now the space is kept open largely by goodwill, blood, sweat and tears.
Its primary aims include providing a sense of belonging and community for LGBT people in the west; a place to come together in non-alcoholic setting. As per its Irish name, the space acts as a lighthouse, guiding lost souls through a stormy sea to safe harbour.
When I caught up with Cameron Keighron, Chairperson of Amach!, they reflected on the hard work that had already been done in bringing Teach Solais into being.
While the venue was secured in 2015, it has only been open since 2017 and has to date relied on Cameron, other Amach! board members and Community Employment Scheme workers to operate.
They’ve worked on providing a full social experience via the centre, by way of meditation classes, a running club, soccer club, self-defence classes and work with LGBT Ireland.
Cameron feels like they are just putting together a lot of pieces that were already there; they’re put together in once space.
‘We provide a lot of information, especially with how isolated it can be in a rural context; people come in and they have a question, or they need some condoms, we’re there to provide that information in a safe and confidential way that is accessible to them’.
In addition, the space is readily made available to other community groups in the city, including LGBT Ireland, Bi+ Ireland, and Galway Pro-Choice.
‘We open the space up for community groups to have a more affordable space and a more permanent space available to them’.
There’s a lot of intersectionality between the cohort that we’re targeting and the cohort that they’re targeting. We’re not just an LGBT centre so you don’t have to be an LGBT group to use the centre or to come in, you just have to respect the ethos of the centre’.
This hard work is all in jeopardy, however, as the space has never been given the core, renewable government funding that constitutes the lifeblood of spaces like this.
Originally set up thanks to a one-off, €25,000 fund from Galway City Council and accompanied by a €45,000 payment from the Maureen O’Connell fund, without regular, budgeted government support the space’s days are numbered.
This need lead them to start engaging with local politicians and other community groups to find out how they were funded. By and large the HSE were funding them, so Amach!
approached the relevant HSE Community Health Organization (Area 2, Galway, Mayo and Roscommon).
Though there was no new funding available the HSE were very supportive and advised them to continue to work with local politicians to contact other avenues of the HSE
Hildegarde Naughton TD helped to organise a meeting with Catherine Byrne Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy.
She suggested that they apply for a grant called Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy. Just before they submitted their application for that, Minister for Health Simon Harris visited the centre where they talked about it, so he too was aware it was going through.
Within days they got an email back letting them know they were unsuccessful, which was disheartening and disappointing for them to say the least.
They were then moved or advised towards applying for funding under Section 39 (Non-Acute/Community Agencies being provided with funding under Section 39 of the Health Act, 2004.) under which a lot of other community or advocacy groups are being funded.
‘We applied for just over €90,000, and originally we were awarded €1,000, upon appealing then they upped that to €5,000’.
‘hey feedback was that the budget they had to work with doesn’t have enough surplus money for the budget that we submitted. It’s not that the HSE is bad or the HSE doesn’t want to fund us. The HSE do, they actually recognise the work that we do.
They recognise that this is saving money in the long term. If we can give people advice, information, it ultimately saves on the health service in the future’.
The impression one gets is of a system which has not kept pace with or allowed for the emergence of new, genuine public resources which have been put together with genuine, long-term grassroots action and devotion.
‘The reality is that funding streams like Section 39 haven’t really increased all that much in the last number of years. There’s still the same amount of groups that they were always funding, but now there’s more groups that need funding, but their money hasn’t increased.’
‘The government needs to ring fence core funding for groups like ours in a specific LGBT+ fund that’s protected, that rolls over on a yearly basis. There’s no point in giving us money for one year because in a year’s time we’ll be back in the same position’.
There does seem to be broad political support for the space and securing its future; with a recent public meeting (above) on the topic attracting Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Independent TDs along with representatives from the Green Party, People Before Profit, Social Democrats and Sinn Fein.
A shared sense of multi-partisanship was on display, with the elected representatives present at the time displaying an encouraging outlook regarding the space and its work being more important for the community than any potential political point-scoring.
As much as there is an undeniable hopefulness around the space; Cameron also admits trepidation about the future.
‘The community are scared. We’ve built this place up to be a vibrant hub for the LGBT community, the first real physical element to visibility for a really under-represented group in the west of Ireland.’
‘People rely on it for a social network, the vast majority of the time, people are coming into the centre; they all take care of each other. It really fosters a sense of family, community, the community that are coming there they really need it. They view this as another home.’
This duality, of a hard job well done but also of a space built on sand would seem to be taking its toll on Cameron and the rest of the Amach! Crew running the space.
‘We all find it really rewarding, the work that we’re doing here. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t like it. It’s also getting to the point that the vast majority of us, myself included, are heading towards burnout. There’s only so many times you can write grant after grant after grant and get a negative response.
It’s really frustrating and it’s really disheartening because we don’t know if it’s us that’s doing something wrong. We don’t know if it’s that the funding stream isn’t the right one. In these situations, the LGBT community in the west of Ireland, a lot of the community groups feel the frustration of you feel like you’re not being heard.’
If you are interested in helping Teach Solais keep its doors open, you can contribute here.
John Donlon is a Galway-based freelance journalist.
Top Pic: Connaucht Tribune