Fight is on to maintain vital ex-prisoners service

Workers and volunteers say they need the support of the community to continue their work Workers and volunteers say they need the support of the community to continue their work
By Conor McParland

A support group for ex-prisoners and their families is battling to maintain its services in the local community.
Tar Isteach Advice and Counselling Service, which is based on the Antrim Road, was set up in 1999 to provide counselling and welfare rights advice for ex-prisoners and their families.
But the group has been struggling to maintain its services since the ending of the Peace III funding in March 2015. It is only kept running through the ongoing generosity of individuals, families and various supporters.

Tar Isteach aims to attain equality, inclusion, full citizenship and emotional well-being for ex-prisoners and their families in North Belfast through the provision of advice, counselling, emotional support, youth provision, training and education.
The inclusive group is also part of the Community Development Network of North Belfast, working to improve social and economic conditions.
The group’s staff and activities are supported by volunteers who have become a crucial part of their work since funding was stopped.
This Saturday, a sponsored walk from Black Mountain to Cave Hill is the latest event which will seek to raise funds for the organisation.

After the success of the sponsored walk last year, which involved a Divis to Cave Hill challenge, the group is once again staging the event for further funds to help maintain its crucial services.
Tar Isteach Welfare Rights Manager Agnes Fraser said: “This year has seen the introduction of the welfare cuts and the biggest changes to the welfare system since it was created.
“Our service is a vital lifeline to thousands of people struggling to find their way through what will be the biggest shake-up in the benefit system ever seen. Thousands of individuals and households will be impacted – affecting all working-age claimants aged 16 to 65.
“We are working as hard as we can to maintain our services but it is down to the dedication of the advice staff and volunteers that support them and support from the local community that we are able to keep the service going at all.
“We are appealing to the public to assist us in ‘Saving Our Services’, we will be holding a sponsored walk on Saturday 25th June 2016 and are we asking for your support in maintaining our services.
“Everyone is welcome to come along and support us on the walk or to sponsor one of the many walkers who are giving up their time for what they believe is a worthy cause.
“Last year’s event was critical in ensuring the continued provision of our services. Every donation received was greatly appreciated and you can depend on Tar Isteach to defend and represent you and your family in the same way as you have shown support for us,” she added.
Tar Isteach says it’s determined to continue to meet the need out there and that demand is evidenced not only in the popularity of their services but in the unresolved issues that continue to affect republican ex-prisoners and their families.

All those interested in taking part in the sponsored walk are invited to meet at the Tar Isteach building at 244 Antrim Road on Saturday morning at 9.30am.

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