Galway restaurateur offers hand-up – not a hand-out

Gill Carroll with a staff member in 56 Central.

Gill Carroll sees homeless people sleeping in the doorway of her city restaurant every morning and evening.

But instead of complaining about the issue, or just feeling sorry for those who have fallen on hard times, the owner of 56 Central on Shop Street and 37 West in Newcastle has decided to do something about it.

A fortnight ago she took on two young people who are clients of the Galway Simon Community. They are working in the kitchen alongside chef Vicky Donley who aims to teach them basic cooking skills and kitchen etiquette for four hours once a week for five weeks.

She hopes the experience of working in a busy kitchen will lead to them getting a job in hospitality or embarking on training or further education. Gill plans to make her ‘Positive Placement Project’ an ongoing initiative with the Galway Simon Youth Reach Programme, where social workers liaise with youths aged 18 to 23 who are at risk of homelessness or who actually have nowhere stable to live.

“We’ve decided to keep it small impact, once a week for a few hours, so they can make a real effort to come in and learn the basics of working in a kitchen, chopping, peeling, how to make soup, sauces – these kids mostly eat just pot noodles,” exclaims Gill.

“Here they discover that if they have just carrots potatoes and onions they can make a soup, enough to last a week.”

Gill first experienced how quickly things can turn for vulnerable young people when she joined the Big Brother Big Sister mentoring programme run by Foroige seven years ago.

She remembers dropping her ‘Little Sister’ home after bringing her to the hairdressers, only to discover the teenager – who spent many years in and out of foster care – had no home to go to.

“She ended up living in a Simon House and she found it very difficult to live with six strangers. So, we raised money to do up the kitchen in that residence and ended up decorating the sitting room.”

See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.