Our History - Irish in Greenwich

The Irish Community in South London

It is estimated that as many as six million people living in the UK have an Irish ancestry. Since the 1940s, thousands and thousands of Irish people came, worked, lived and died in the areas around Greenwich and Woolwich, and made a huge positive contribution to the communities they lived in.

Irish migrants played a vital role in rebuilding the capital’s roads and railways, and staffing its hospitals and services after World War II. Irish people lived here, worked, helped one another, went into politics and helped shaped our local communities.

Development of the charity

In the 1970s and 1980s, predominantly as a result of the bombing campaign being carried out by the IRA, and particularly because the borough hosted an army base in Woolwich, there was a significant increase in anti-Irish sentiment.

Older Irish members of our lunch clubs tell of children being kept away from school because of bullying, being called murderers, being spat at in shops or told to “go home”.

Most Irish had very limited sympathy with a campaign which brought such mayhem and fear to Britain, with innocent people being killed.

At the time there were some 6,000 Irish born living in the borough. With the assistance of the Greater London Council (GLC), local Greenwich councillors and residents, a conference was held called ‘The Irish in Greenwich – The way forward’. Its aim was to initiate a non-political, non-sectarian organisation to defend the citizens’ rights of members of the Irish community.

As a result, with funding from Greenwich Council in September 1984, the organisation ‘Irish in Greenwich’ was set up, employing two members of staff one for culture and one for Education. Its work in schools proved so successful that the model was adapted by schools so that they could teach about all the ethnic minorities in Greenwich Borough.

In the intervening years, the organisation continued to develop and respond to the changing needs of the Irish Community, helping set up the Greenwich Irish Pensioners Group in 1986. In 1998 research highlighted the specific needs of an increasingly aging Irish community was identified, resulting in funding being secured from the Dion to contribute towards Elders Outreach projects. In 1999 the organisation became a Company Limited by Guarantee, and Registered Charity status in 2001.

Now known as “Irish Community Services” the charity continues to provide a range of popular, welcoming and much needed welfare and support services to the Irish community across south London, with particular focus on the needs of the Irish born who are elderly, vulnerable and isolated.

Our services depend on the commitment and generosity of a team of trained volunteers, who help us deliver a vital network of support and care in our local communities, and the on-going support of our donors and fundraisers.

Our Wider Relevance

Many other immigrant communities today are facing similar challenges and prejudices that some of the Irish community experienced during the bombings and their aftermath in the 1970’s.

Over the past few years we have been approached by other BME communities experiencing similar challenges. We are a leading member of a local network of voluntary organisations who share experiences, and suggest practical solutions and examples of best practice to ensure members of minority communities are able to access appropriate services and support.

We believe our experiences, and the experiences of our members and volunteers can help demonstrate the importance of delivering culturally sensitive services, and how migrant communities can have a positive local impact and work together towards integration without losing their identity.

The Irish Centre

2B Devonshire Road

Bexleyheath

DA6 8DS

0208 854 4466

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