Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Break-in at Children’s Arts charity “heart-wrenching”

By Diarmúid Pepper

In the early hours of Wednesday morning last, much-loved Arts charity ‘Sticky Fingers’ on Upper Edward Street in Newry suffered a break-in.

The arts centre provides much needed enjoyment and recreation for children and families in the local area, including children with special educational needs.

Grainne Powell, CEO of Sticky Fingers, spoke to The Examiner about the shocking incident. 

“On Wednesday morning, our team arrived as usual to set up for what would have been a busy day. We were expecting a bus load of children in along with a preschool programme. And the staff opened to find that the café area had been ransacked and a break-in had occurred. 

“We were so shocked and it was a very unsafe site. So it resulted in all the programmes being cancelled and we spent the day cleaning the premises and trying to repair the damage to the areas that we needed to use.”

Sticky Fingers is a charity and as a result of the break-in some children had to be turned away from the arts programmes they have come to love. 

Powell told the paper: “We are a charity. We are a community resource. We provide programmes for children and young people and families across the north of Ireland and border counties. We were expecting a large group of children to arrive on Wednesday morning and that had to be cancelled.

“We also have a standing commitment to St. Joseph’s on Wednesday mornings when we have a group of special educational needs students who come in and that was very difficult to turn them away. Trying to explain to young children that they can’t come in is heart-wrenching.”

Staff and volunteers alike have worked hard in order to bring the centre to life and make it a wonderful resource for the local community. 

However, Sticky Fingers were able to get back up and running the next day thanks to the help of the community.

Powell said: “It was very difficult for the staff because they and a lot of volunteers spent time making and building up the Imaginarium, so to see that somebody had come in and just destroyed what we were working on was devastating. 

“Our biggest concern was the public areas like the story-land and the areas that the children use. Our priority was to make sure that they were okay and to get them operational and clean and ready again.

“But on a positive note, what we did find was that the support that we received from the community was huge. Within minutes of the news going out that we were broken into, we were inundated with calls from local people and local businesses offering help and assistance.

“So that was something really positive. People called in to help, so that we were actually able to get everything back up and running and open to the public again.”

Powell says that she and her staff are undeterred by this incident and will continue to bring their arts programming to the local community.

“We are a charity, operating on very limited resources and to have somebody attack that is devastating. But we are more determined than ever to make sure that we are there to provide these programmes to local families.

“The service we provide is essential for many people. We have families who depend on having this space for numerous reasons. The people who carried out this act have no regard for anybody local and certainly no regard for the local families who depend on us.

Despite the break-in, quick-thinking on the behalf of Powell’s team meant that disruptions were kept to a minimum.

“The people who carried this out weren’t one bit concerned that we wouldn’t be able to provide a service on the following morning. But thankfully, due to the quick thinking of our own staff, we were able to send our artists out into schools so at least we were able to run some sort of programming that morning.

“It was difficult but it is testament to the team and the staff, they were brilliant. They worked hard and into the night to make sure that we were back and running and everything was prepared and cleaned before we opened to the public the following day.

“So it certainly won’t stop us in our tracks. As an organisation we are well used to overcoming obstacles and challenges. We have a reputation that every time we get knocked down we come back stronger.”

Powell extended her thanks to local businesses, politicians and members of the public who came to the aid of Sticky Fingers in its time of need.

“Thankfully, because of all the support we got, from Mickey Brady and all the other politicians, Naomi Long from Alliance for example, loads of politicians contacted us immediately. As well as that, business people and, more importantly, local families called in to help clean up and help get everything back up and working.”

Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady condemned the break-in and appealed for vigilance within communities amid a growing trend of break-ins within the city. He commended the work of Powell and her team and called for the public to be vigilant due to the recent break-ins in the city.

“Grainne and her team at Sticky Fingers have helped revitalise the Arts in our area and brought huge enjoyment and learning both to young and old. I am angered at the disappointing news that the Imaginarium and Art Cafe were broke into.

“There are fears about what seems to be a growing trend of thefts and break-ins within our City. The Police must focus resources on protecting people and property and apprehending these criminals who prey on our businesses and communities. I would also appeal for people to be extra vigilant and watch out for suspicious activity.”