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Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Family Affair for the Future of The Fountain’s Youth

By Arlene Melo

Cathedral Youth Club
Graham Warke
It is 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and the nearly vacant two-floor Cathedral Youth Club is suddenly filled with giggles coming from wide-eyed children, steps from children running up the stairs, and challenges from six-year olds being proposed across the pool table. The youth club – along as the dartboard, pool tables, game consoles, and computers – has come alive. As he completes fundraising proposals and unpacks the latest tools for the club, Graham Warke glances out the commemorating window outside the main office and walks out to welcome the schoolchildren, along with Alan Warke, who is the club’s African drum instructor, mentor, and my personal guide for the “Footsteps Through The Fountain” tour. After a few minutes, one of the young boys smiles at Graham as he accepts the boy’s invitation to play a game of darts.

Alan Warke
Graham and Alan Warke are the sons of Jeanette Warke and the late David Warke, co-founder of the Cathedral Youth Club. The Warke family has been actively involved with the youth club since it’s beginning in the old Cathedral School London Street, within the city walls. Opened in 1972, the youth club aimed to provide a facility for Protestant young people to participate in recreational activities once a week during the difficult time of civil unrest in the years of the Troubles.

Office window commemorating David Warke
After moving locations in the years that followed, the youth club opened its current location in 1980 in The Fountain Estate area. The club pledged to continue their mentorship for young people living in The Fountain Estate, the Waterside and near surroundings. The Fountain is presently the last Protestant area on the city side of the River Foyle in Londonderry. With the Protestant population declining rapidly, the Foundation community has made efforts to maintain its culture and history, with tri-color painted sidewalks and British flags. As the only youth club in the Protestant area, the club provides an environment where young children can participate in dance, art and computer classes, along with drama workshops and sports matches.

View of The Fountain from the youth club
The Cathedral Youth Club aims to provide a safe environment for the youth to expand their horizons and participate in activities that can guide them to build bridges through educational and recreational activities, and encourage the young people to get involved in cross community programs – rather than be ignited with the hostility experienced throughout the city’s history.

In December 2013, Graham Warke was acknowledged with a special recognition award from the Youth Justice Agency for supporting young people through reparation. Graham takes pride in encouraging young people to reflect on their offending behavior while helping restore fractured relationships in the community. He has also been working closely with both Catholic and Protestant schools to bridge the differences experienced in both communities, through soccer and boxing matches. “It’s great to see the youth shake hands and enjoy a great match as a team,” expressed Graham.

The youth club has also recently introduced the “Footsteps Through The Fountain” project where teenagers from The Fountain offer tours to Catholic students in order to change the stigma and introduce them to The Fountain community and culture. As expressed by Dean, one of the young tour guides, “Everyone is welcome on what should be a very exciting and informative tour. I’m looking forward to showing people around our area and showing them the murals and other historic tourist attractions like the jail.”

As felt throughout the city, Graham has been pleased to see how calm Londonderry has been in the last two years. “In the last year or so, people are coming together and talking through their problems. It’s been completely different and it’s looking brighter for our youth.” This was vividly expressed when Graham began to describe the scene during the recent City of Culture events occurring around the city the last couple of months. “It was great to see the youth come together, despite their different backgrounds, and be united through music. This would have never been possible a couple of years ago.”

As you walk around the rooms in the Cathedral Youth Club and gaze at the murals outside the club, there is a vivid sense of community and pride in The Fountain’s heritage the Warke family has fostered throughout the years, but most significantly, there is a palpable feeling of the desire for the youth to be liberated from the past. A few meters away from the youth club, in the community garden, a bronze sculpture of a young apprentice angel can be seen. Designed by youth club members and artist Ross Wilson, the sculpture is patterned with keys collected from within The Fountain Estate, along with a recast key from the Siege of Derry in 1689. The plaque summarizes the hope the community holds for its youth’s future, “…the Past is always present but the Future is key to us all, we alone have the power to unlock it and the right to experience it.”

For more information on the Cathedral Youth Club, click here.

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