Belfast Telegraph

Derry youth club marks 45 years as oasis of hope

City amenity kept kids out of clutches of terror gangs

By Donna Deeney

A cross-community youth club in Londonderry that survived bullets and bombs during the Troubles has celebrated its 45th anniversary.

Founded by husband and wife David and Jeanette Warke, the Cathedral Youth Club has been the beating heart of the community for hundreds of young people from the Fountain estate.

Sadly, David passed away in 2003, but Jeanette still runs the club, where she has witnessed generations of young people grow up and send their own children and grandchildren.

At the club's inception, life was difficult for Protestants living on Derry's West Bank.

Mrs Warke said: "After we had been intimidated out of our home in Mountjoy Street we moved to Newbuildings in the Waterside, which was after Bloody Sunday. We had been parishioners of St Columb's Cathedral and the Dean visited us and asked us to open a youth club for the kids because he was scared they would get involved with paramilitaries, and also because there was nowhere safe for them to go. We opened up one night a week in the Cathedral School in London Street and that's how it all began.

"We started with 13 young people in September 1972, which was a very bad time in Derry. There was a blackout, CS gas in the air, bombs going off and shooting that never seemed to end.

"So many nights we couldn't get back over the bridge to Newbuildings and had to go all the back road through Lifford in Co Donegal. They were traumatic times, but it was worth it because we were giving the young people in the Fountain and from the Waterside somewhere safe to come to, because there really wasn't anything else for them."

Money for equipment and excursions all had to be found through fundraising, but a lot of it came from unlikely sources thanks to the esteem Jeanette and David were held in.

"Right from the early days David and I linked our club up with Shantallow Youth Club. That was almost unheard of in those days and we did sponsored walks together; we went to their club and they came to ours," she said.

"Cross-community work was always a big part of the youth club and I know it played a big part in many of the young people staying away from paramilitaries because they have told me that themselves.

"We have had quite a few couples who met in the youth club and who went on to get married and later brought their own children here; I am now seeing grandchildren of some of the people who came here as teenagers."

Mrs Warke suffered the sudden loss of David in 2003. She said: "It was tough for me to come back into the youth club but after a long and hard think I did come back and got on with the good work he had started.

"I had been here on a voluntary basis but I decided to go for David's job because this was where my heart lay and it was my way of coping with my grief.

"We have a stained glass window in the youth club which reads: 'From little acorns, mighty oaks do grow'. That was David's saying about the young people."

Events have been organised to mark the 45th anniversary, including an exhibition at the Playhouse, which runs until Friday, an anniversary dance at the Memorial Hall on Friday, October 13, and a choral performance at St Columb's Cathedral on November 29.

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