Computer Club educating the Liberties

 The Network Computer Club on Rainsford Street Photo: Kevin O'Mahony

The Network Computer Club on Rainsford Street
Photo: Kevin O’Mahony

The Network Computer Club lies in the shadow of the Guinness Brewery on Dublin’s Rainsford Street, off Thomas Street. As I arrived chief executive Evan Moore greeted me at the door.

The club caters for inner-city children, predominantly from the Liberties but also from other areas of the city. It is a centre geared towards teaching children and young teens the tools they need to find gainful employment, but most importantly self-belief and confidence with computers as their chosen medium.

It also boasts a number of sports programmes, with fencing, cricket and rugby opportunities all available to the kids. Dublin City Council provides a fencing tutor while rugby training is provided by Solas. The emphasis is on exposing the children to as many opportunities and skills as possible.

The centre opens at 7am and operates a breakfast club for children aged 7-12 before school starts. Some of the children who turn up come from homes where a morning meal is a rarity. The food supplies are provided by the Dublin Food Bank which receives supplies from Dublin city supermarkets.

From 9am onwards, classes are provided in self-development and English for parents of immigrant families struggling to fit into Irish society. The HSE also refer unaccompanied children and teenagers who arrived in Ireland without their family to the centre.

One of the centre’s biggest success stories centres on a young Somalian man called  Abdul, who arrived alone in Ireland as a young boy and is now studying engineering in DCU. As many former club members do, Abdul returns often to mentor the children.

A more recent success story involves three young club members who have been chosen to go to America for the Boston Team summit involving multimedia labs, coding seminars and viewing robotics, this July.

The centre was also well represented on Sunday at the FIRST Lego Robotics league in Galway in February where six members came 10th out of 30 teams. The league is an international competition for students aged between 9 and 14.

The robotics part of the competition revolves around designing and programming Lego robots to complete tasks. The students work out solutions to the various problems they are given and then meet for regional tournaments to share their knowledge, compare ideas and display their robots.

An invaluable addition to the centre is Des who works in the IT department in Dublin Institute of Technology’s Kevin Street building. Des, teaches the children Lego robotics and coding.

Moore said: “Des is a huge part of our operation and contributes so much of his time, energy and enthusiasm to our project”.  Student volunteers also come from Trinity College and NUI Maynooth, while social work students on placements from Bern University in Switzerland and the United States, also provide invaluable help. Two local musicians come in on a weekly basis and have helped the children to produce their own CD.

But as with many resources in Dublin city, funding has been badly affected by recent cuts. Moore says that the budget for the club has been cut by up to 25% over the past five years forcing a reduction in full time staff to five after one youth worker, let go two years ago, could not be replaced.

Fundraising is an ongoing problem for the club. Two local celebrities have helped to highlight the club’s great work; Brenda Fricker, an actress who lives in the area, and singer Imelda May, a proud Liberties girl from Meath Street.

May became involved in the centre’s ‘Youth Achievement Award’ which is given to young people in the area for achievements in art, sports or some other outstanding work. Unfortunately May is based in London so her involvement was a once off occurrence, but it helped shine a light on the club’s great work.

Students from the nearby National College of Art and Design also tutor the young people in arts, textile and fashion design. The centre provides weekends away every six weeks, and more often in summer, allowing the kids to stay in the properties of non-profit organisations around the country.

Moore said, “Many of these children have never seen a green space or a cow until they experience these short breaks”.

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