IWA opens new Waterford centre

The Irish Wheelchair Association’s new resource and outreach centre at the Cleaboy Business Park has been officially opened

A NEW home for the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) in Waterford has been officially opened.Mayor of Waterford City & County Council Cllr Declan Doocey joined Rosemary Keogh, CEO of the Irish Wheelchair Association, to officially open the organisation’s new resource and outreach centre at Unit 1A in the Cleaboy Business Park, Old Kilmeaden Road, Waterford on Thursday 2nd May.The event brought together local people, businesses and community organisations, as well as members, friends and supporters of the Irish Wheelchair Association, who celebrated the opening of the new centre following years of discussion and planning.

By providing essential services for people with physical disabilities, the new bright and spacious facility will benefit approximately 40 local Irish Wheelchair Association members.Established in 1960, the Irish Wheelchair Association has been operating services in Waterford since the nineties and was one of the charities honoured at the recent Mayors’ Ball held at The Tower Hotel.Along with resource and outreach, the Irish Wheelchair Association provides services such as assisted living services, enhanced homecare services, motoring, sport, youth services, wheelchair sales and rental, housing and holidays.

The charity has grown into a nationwide network of over 20,000 members supported by a dedicated team of over 2,000 staff and another 2,000 volunteers and continues to operate by its vision to “achieve full inclusion and integration of people with disabilities as equal and independent members of society”.The Irish Wheelchair Association is now a major service provider, an effective lobbyist of government and decision makers and a strong advocate for the rights of people with a disability.

Eileen O’Mahony (President, IWA), Caroline Lacey (Service Manager, IWA), Rosemary Keogh (CEO, IWA) and Mayor of Waterford City & County Council Cllr Declan Doocey.

Eileen O’Mahony (President, IWA), Caroline Lacey (Service Manager, IWA), Rosemary Keogh (CEO, IWA) and Mayor of Waterford City & County Council Cllr Declan Doocey.

Speaking at the official opening of the new Waterford resource and outreach centre, CEO Rosemary Keogh said it was an honour and a privilege to attend.She said Waterford had waited a long time to obtain such a centre and praised the efforts which have been undertaken in order to make the centre “a real home” for Irish Wheelchair Association members in Waterford.“This centre is your centre. I’m proud as CEO, but you all should be so proud of what you have achieved,” she said.

“Since its beginnings in the nineties, the Irish Wheelchair Association in Waterford has operated out of various rented rooms, but this is your first permanent home and what a home it is. I’m very proud to be part of an organisation that can make things like this happen.”She said visitors to the centre could instantly feel “a sense of pride and ownership” and praised the “resilience and tenacity” of all involved in the project.

“The Irish Wheelchair Association’s vison is of an Ireland where people with disabilities enjoy equal rights and opportunities,” said Rosemary.She encouraged everyone in attendance to continue striving to spread the message of the Irish Wheelchair Association and to “advocate for a better Ireland”.

“Keep making noise and telling stories,” she said.Among the many services provided by the Irish Wheelchair Association, transport is particularly relevant for members in Waterford.Rosemary acknowledged the efforts undertaken locally to secure a second bus and outlined the importance of ensuring that all members can access the new resource and outreach centre.This is particularly important for people in rural areas who aren’t served by a public transport network.

Amy Fitzgerald from Stradbally is one such person who has benefitted from the provision of such a service.At the official opening, she delivered an inspirational speech on what she said was a “very special day” for her.“The Irish Wheelchair Association has always been a huge part of my life,” she said.

“I remember a time when we didn’t have any centre, but what we did have, and what we still have, are amazing people.”She praised everyone who “makes IWA Waterford what it is” and everyone who has contributed down through the years.Amy’s involvement with the Irish Wheelchair Association stretches back to when she was four years old.She said she was first introduced to the organisation by a “really special lady” and went on to outline the positive impact which fellow Stradbally woman Anne Concannon has had on her life.

“My first introduction to the IWA was with Anne and I have the warmest of memories of the best of times,” she said.  Amy recalled engaging in activities such as bowling and other “simple things” such as embarking on trips and doing various activities within the community.“Things that kids with disabilities don’t get to do or don’t get to do a lot of,” she explained.

Amy outlined the “paving stones” which resulted in the new resource and outreach centre being obtained and praised the staff, volunteers and all the members.“It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t involved with the IWA, but it really is like a big family,” she said.“It’s way more than just going along and having a cup of tea. You build real relationships with people. I’m lucky that I have the support of my family, but outside of that, the IWA is the next biggest thing for me. I have a lot of memories that brought me to today, and I can’t wait for the new memories we make.”

Ann O’Grady, who lives in Kill, also has first-hand experience of the impact of the transport service operated by the Irish Wheelchair Association.Ann is transported to and from gatherings in Waterford on Mondays and in Dungarvan on Fridays.She praised this “terrific service” and said joining the Irish Wheelchair Association was the “best thing I ever did”.“I enjoy it immensely,” said Ann, who also outlined the huge social benefits which she has experienced.

“There’s a danger that you could sit at home and do literally nothing.”Many of those in attendance at the official opening have been involved with the Irish Wheelchair Association from the very beginning of its journey in Waterford, including the aforementioned Anne Concannon.

She recalled the initial years of the Irish Wheelchair Association in Waterford and how she often brought members to her own house for tea.As there was no Irish Wheelchair Association bus in Waterford at the time, Ann also transported members to and from gatherings in her own car.

Down through the years, venues including Ballinroad Hall and the Rainbow Hall in Kilmacthomas have been used for gatherings.In addition to social gatherings, activities such as swimming and fishing have also been organised.Members have enjoyed foreign holidays, enabling them to travel as a group without being constrained by any logistical hassles.

Many fundraisers have been held down through the years to ensure such activities and events can continue, with the role of volunteers being crucial to the organisations’s success.Volunteer Anne Hendy began her association with the Irish Wheelchair Association after she was involved in a serious road traffic accident.In 2001, while driving from Waterford to Dungarvan, a horse collided with her car near Kilmacthomas.Anne suffered serious injuries and, as part of her rehabilitation process, it was recommended that she get involved with the Irish Wheelchair Association.

Although she never required the use of a wheelchair for her day-to-day life, she found her involvement with the Irish Wheelchair Association to be hugely beneficial.Anne subsequently became a volunteer as she feels she can empathise with how others in similar situations are feeling.Along with the valued contributions from volunteers, the Irish Wheelchair Association has also been fortunate to receive significant support from other quarters.Caroline Lacey, Irish Wheelchair Association Service Manager, thanked all involved with making the dream of a resource and outreach centre in Waterford a reality.She specifically thanked Mark Weldon of the Causeway Group for his support along with all the Irish Wheelchair Association staff, volunteers and members in Waterford.

Having their own impressive facility in Waterford will certainly ensure that local members of the Irish Wheelchair Association can continue to enjoy excellent services and remain active members within their local community.With so much pride and enthusiasm on display at the official opening of the resource and outreach centre, the Irish Wheelchair Association’s future in Waterford certainly looks very bright.

For more information on the Irish Wheelchair Association visit www.iwa.ie

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