Love/Love: from Nidge weasel to nice guy
Filming ‘Love/Hate’ opened Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s eyes to how some of Dublin’s poorest communities live, prompting him to work with Barnardos
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor at a Barnardos centre. ‘I’m just glad children have this amazing place to come and that they’re nurtured and feel safe and they can play.’ Photograph: Patrick Bolger
Project leader Mark Brennan and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor at a Barnardos centre. Photograph: Patrick Bolger
One day, two fans of crime drama Love/Hate called its star, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, over for a chat. “We were filming,” says Vaughan-Lawlor. “They were out with their kids in a pram. The kids were gorgeous and they were very tender with them. But it was really late at night and they were addicts. I thought the woman was about 50 but then I saw she was pregnant. The kids were tired and one was a bit upset, but their love for their children was obvious. But they were both high and the kids were very young. And I realised that the chances for these kids . . . ”
He stops. Vaughan-Lawlor is explaining the importance of the children’s charity Barnardos but he’s a bit lost for words. We’re talking at a Barnardos centre in Tallaght. There are 40 such centres nationwide and they deal with 6,300 children. They work with families of very young children who have been referred to them by the HSE. They have a preschool and an after-school service, where children are nurtured and fed and parents are coached.
Vaughan-Lawlor is in the midst of a busy week filming the Haughey drama, Charlie, but has made time for this meeting. While he has photographs taken around the grounds and with staff, a key worker, anonymous for reasons of confidentiality, takes me on a tour of the facilities. The presence of Barnardos here is very discreet. You would never know it was here. “We don’t want to stigmatise the people who come here,” says project leader Mark Brennan.
The key worker shows me a “sensory room” filled with mild lights and mellow music. There is an area for one-to-one time and chats with key workers, on the wall of which are four expressive circular faces representing four emotional states: sad, peaceful, affectionate and happy.
Every room has tiny wooden chairs. There’s a room full of donated Christmas presents. The staff of Barnardos favour the basics: clothes, books and jigsaws.
“Some parents buy something expensive they feel the kid must have,” she says, “but then the kids mightn’t have nice pyjamas or food for Christmas day.”
They do a lot of work with parents on household budgeting and meal planning.
There’s a safe outdoor play area and a shed full of pedal cars and bikes. “They love being outside,” she says.
Some of these preschoolers are underdeveloped for their age, often because of undernourishment and sometimes because they have been kept too long in prams or push chairs because there’s no safe place to play. “They’re floppy,” she says. “Not as strong as children their age should be.”
And sometimes they have suffered other hardships. In a bright and cheerful preschool room filled with toys, she says: “We can tell a lot about what they see at home or maybe how they’re being treated themselves, by how they talk to the dolls.”
She does this job, she says, because it works. The children and their parents make huge progress. “And when they go off to school we feel like proud parents ourselves.”
Ten minutes later Vaughan-Lawlor and I are sitting on those tiny chairs. There are pictures on the wall of the children who use the room. “These children handle huge adult problems,” he says. “I find it very upsetting. I’m just glad they have this amazing place to come and have a hot meal and a sense of structure and responsibility, and that they’re nurtured and feel safe and they can play – and that the facilities are amazing. It’s amazing to see the work Barnardos does bolstering and inspiring people.”