Despite funding reprieve Dungannon women’s centre ‘not out of the woods yet’

Chief executive of First Steps Women's Centre, Michael McGoldrick, with SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly
Chief executive of First Steps Women's Centre, Michael McGoldrick, with SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly

Despite a lifeline from the Department of Social Development over childcare funding, First Steps Women’s Centre is “not out of the woods yet” .

The Dungannon based charity was one of 14 Women’s Centres in Northern Ireland that, together, were facing a £845,000 deficit that had the potential to close them.

The council spend as much on public toilets as community development

Michael McGoldrick

But, on Wednesday, Social Development Minister Lord Morrow announced that childcare at the centres would be funded for another year - to the tune of £800,000.

Michael McGoldrick, Chief Executive of First Steps [FSWC] told the Times that DSD provides the charity with two valuable funds. One being the Women’s Centre Childcare Fund [WCCF] and the other, the Community Investment Fund [CIF].

He said in order for it to be able to function on the same level as this year, it is vital that the department also provides CIF funding, without which it would be losing around £125k.

But so far, a decision has not been made on this grant.

“This represents a significant amount of funding which would bring about job losses and essential services,” Mr McGoldrick explained.

He went on to say that “FSWC is able to use that funding to generate additional income through the European Social Fund”.

In anticipation of any reduction in funding from DSD Michael went on to say that FSWC met with a senior staff member at Mid Ulster Council last month to seek financial support, but there was no positive outcome.

“When you understand that Mid Ulster Council spend as much money on the public toilets as they do on community development you begin to understand the community development sector is not a big priority,” he said.

If Mid Ulster Council committed to giving £35,000 to FSWC he said this would be turned into £100,000 through the match funding with Europe.

A spokesperson for the council said: “The council is committed to community development, which takes many forms, from direct engagement and support by our staff team to funding programmes. We currently operate an annual grants programme worth £500K, which must stretch to fund over 500 community groups right across the district, including 12 which support vulnerable groups. First Step Women’s Centre is among them and receives approximately £6K annually, based on an application process. To fund all eligible groups to the tune of £35K, would require the entire grants budget to be doubled. In the current climate this is simply not possible.”