This year PULSE data showed just 12 incidents of youth crime in the Edenderry Garda catchment area, down a massive 83 percent on the figures from 2012.
Just before the turn of the Millennium The Acorn Project had been set up to help support youth at risk in the Midlands region.
And earlier this year, in collaboration with Golf Ireland, an opportunity arose for some of these teenagers to get involved in the game of golf.
“I coordinate The Acorn Project but I would also be heavily involved in Edenderry Golf Club,” said Kevin Farrell.
“That’s why myself and Sarah Banville met when she came down – we also do a ‘Golf For All’ programme aimed at people on the spectrum, and Sarah brought a film crew out to film a day of that in action.
“At the end of that, I don’t know if she knew my background or she was just intuitive but she was talking about how well that day went and turned around and said: ‘You wouldn’t have any ins with young people who might be considered at risk?’
“I looked at her and said you have got to be kidding me because that’s my job, that’s what I do. I work with young people at risk. She said I would love to explore a programme for at risk young people.”
It was called the Growth on the Green Programme and the purpose was to see could golf help these teenagers to navigate some of the life’s toughest challenges.
In addition, a personal effectiveness curriculum was provided so they would not only have the opportunity to learn a new sport but on completion of the ten-week programme they would be able to obtain a certificate.
There were 17 interested in taking part and 11 completed the programme with graduation set to take place on 25 October.
Meanwhile, next Wednesday six golfers who are now members in Edenderry Golf Club will begin extra lessons with course professional, Ken O’Brien.
“The Acorn Project is a Youth Diversion Project and our job is to identify, target and engage with people who might be at risk, any young person who would be involved in anti-social behaviour or might be likely to become involved,” said Farrell.
“We target them and I am doing it for 24 years, I am doing it for that duration. Very early on I discovered that you can work at the element of diversion, which is taking these young people when they are in trouble and trying to help them.
“Or you can make the decision that you go in younger and earlier and work at a preventative level. Our project would have always have looked at the preventative level, try get in early and make sure they never get into the criminal justice system.
“Our crime statistics are some of the lowest youth crime statistics in Ireland. When you go back to our annual plan, we began to work preventatively in 2009, 2010 and in 2013 the youth crime statistics began to fall off.”
Edenderry Golf Club has come through its own struggles in recent years and their junior section was almost decimated before Farrell took over as Captain in 2019.
His aim was to help buy out the vulture fund who had taken on their debt while also adding a growing underage presence in the club.
In 2018 there were only 17 junior golfers in Edenderry Golf Club, this year that figure has shot up to 145. Part of that is the youth at risk who have found a new appreciation for the game.
“The first day we went out to the golf club, we have a young lad, he is 14 and he is 6ft3 and he is a beautiful kid but he comes from a really troubled background,” said Farrell.
“He got out of the bus in the carpark in Edenderry and it was a beautiful sunny summers day. The place had just been mowed and the flowers were on the trees, it was that time of year.
“And he just stood there and said I didn’t know that anywhere like this existed anywhere in the world. To think that it is in Edenderry, wow, I can’t believe it. Right from that moment we were very aware of even the location, the beauty of the place.
“I am 35 or 36 years coming and going in and out of Edenderry, there are times where I would say Jesus when it looks well it looks really well but to have a young person to look around and just say wow, they did not know that anywhere could be this beautiful and to think that it could be in Edenderry, he was just blown away.”
The Growth on the Green Programme ran every Wednesday with the teenagers given tea and toast in the morning, followed by a golf session, dinner together in the golf club and then a one-hour workshop.
“We would always say within our work methodology, no matter what we do it’s about creating a safe space for these young kids,” said Farrell.
“Within that our club pro, Ken, really bought into that ethos with us. Okay, he transmitted core, simple golf etiquette and tips and all that. But he is a master in it, he does it in a very encouraging way.
“To see them to buy into Ken and his methods and by the time it was over, Ken was like a friend to them. They didn’t see Ken as a teacher anymore. They almost seen Ken as one of their own.
“All of them have mastered the basics of the golf swing and we wouldn’t have thought that either. But it was Ciara Farrell, who is my key worker, she said the thing what impressed her the most about it was the level of respect they have for each other.
“They discovered very quickly that golf is not a simple game. When they were down first they said sure that is easy, you have nobody tackling you and the ball isn’t moving. The initial reaction was, I’m going to be deadly at this.
“That was said by so many of them, then suddenly they realised that the ball doesn’t move and you are not getting tackled but it’s not that easy to hit it.
“You might have expected there would be a lot of sniggering and sneering but because they all found it quite difficult to start off with they gained an appreciation for if somebody hits the ball at all they are clapping for them.
“There was a great sense of support and respect. That element of jeering didn’t happen. When there was any success at all, it was celebrated as a team.
“They were out there individually and it is an individual game but every success was treated as their success.”
On the conclusion of the programme the general consensus was the group wanted to continue on, and the six who have joined the club as members will get the opportunity to sharpen their skills from next week onwards.
Meanwhile, the Laois Offaly ETB certified the personal effectiveness curriculum before the programme started and those who graduate will receive a Level 3 QQI in Personal Effectiveness.
“They changed their perception of golf, their possibility of playing golf and becoming members of a golf club. They now see golf as something that is possible,” said Farrell.
“The fact that they were so warmly welcomed, I do think how the golf club embraced them, welcomed them and encouraged them, was huge as well.
“When you are talking about lifechanging even small changes in how they see each other, how the young people see the golf club and their view of what golf is and golfers has changed.
“They would have seen golf as a snobby game, they would have seen golf clubs as somewhere that they didn’t belong. They are now more open to the idea that everybody was dead sound.
“It had an impact at both levels, an impact for the kids but I’d like to think also some impact for how the golfers in the golf club view them as well.”