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Saol Project

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Saol Project

Mission Statement
Saol is a community project focused on improving the lives of women affected by addiction and poverty

Vision Statement
Saol is working towards transforming the way in which Ireland responds to addiction and poverty.

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A selection of stories from particpants of SAOL from the past 20 years, collated by Belinda Nugent.


Hello my name is Audrey and I was a participant in the first Community Employment group when SAOL opened in 1995. When the group first met with Joan Byrne and Cathleen O’Neill they asked us, ‘What educational programmes we would like to do while in SAOL?

Initially the group wanted to do knitting and sewing.  Instead, we were encouraged to begin with some adult literacy.  But we had no tables, chairs or even stationary. One day two presses were delivered into SAOL, so we took the cardboard that covered them and then got pens from a local ‘bookies’ and so began the ‘Cardboard Writing Group’.

We began with sex education with Cathleen O’Neill and learned how to explore our bodies and not to be ashamed of ourselves. What the course highlighted was a lot of women had children and had never experienced an organism! We learnt a lot from that education class!

Through SAOL I learned to trust. I also learned discipline and acceptance while figuring out who I really was as a woman. SAOL was a motivator, managing to trigger a hunger in me for education: I wanted more.

In SAOL I always felt safe. I always knew that somebody was looking out for me and they had my back. Joan, Cathleen and Eileen, were always there for me.

Back in 1995 Mary Robinson officially opened up the project. We all felt so special and such an honour to have the President of Ireland opening the first ever women’s rehabilitation and educational community project.

Many of us women at the time had never been away; SAOL gave us this opportunity and brought us to the Aran Islands. Things on the Island got carried away and we ended up requiring a helicopter at one stage, to rescue us.

SAOL helped me in my recovery in many ways. They helped me to fight the system. Due to being on a medical card I had great difficulties in getting into the Rutland centre, but with the help of Brian Sweeney, Joan Byrne and Gerry McAleenan who fought my case, I got my place in the Rutland centre. At the time Sheila Stone was my counsellor, she also came to my assistance.

When my time in SAOL had finished I continued with my recovery and finished my treatment. I eventually went on to become a peer-worker in SAOL and with the help of funding we went to Germany for further training and information. I have many other great memories of my time in SAOL.  These included completing my diploma in addiction studies, Women’s Studies and facilitating various courses in SAOL.

SAOL was flexible to accommodate us women. SAOL has unconditional love and care for us all. Twenty years on I came through the doors once more and see a lot has changed but yet I still feel that it’s a place of safety and good people have your back. Happy birthday SAOL, and yous have lots more, Audrey.


My name is Sue. I was here from 1998-2000 and our group was brought to the Big House in Cavan. 

I was allowed to bring my nephew Conan, as all the girls were also bringing their kids.

Anyway I was trying to get the nephew asleep in order to get from the room to join the others in the living room, I had to act like a commando as I turned off the lights and crawled on the ground like a snake to sneak out of the room’. When I reached the group I heard from Cathleen O’Neill, Joan Byrne and Eileen that the rooms were haunted! We stayed up most of that night and shared fun stories and jokes.

The next day, the focus was having fun and games with the kids. We had to do different dances and back then the Spice Girls was in the charts. An old friend who has now passed on, Imelda, was also in my group. And Imelda had her niece with her on the trip. We had so much fun and laughter for those two days. And then to top it all off, when we were leaving, an old American style bus came to bring us back to Dublin lol.

Always remember that weekend, thanks for memories. Happy birthday SAOL, from Sue (1998/2000 and still coming to aftercare!)


Hello everybody, my name is Belinda and I was a participant in SAOL in 1999-2002, as a participant on a community employment scheme. When I first entered SAOL, I met Audrey.  Audrey was from the community and worked in SAOL, I felt safe.

During my time in SAOL I completed my FETAC Level 4 in ‘Child play and development’. I also took a course on ‘Women’s Studies’, maths, and computers and furthermore, I completed my Junior Cert. While in SAOL, I also completed a nine month placement in ‘Think Tank for Social Change’, one of my many achievements.

While at SAOL I gained self-confidence, coping skills and staring believing in myself. Through the support of SAOL Project I began to become aware of my chaotic lifestyle and began to change. After one year I became drug and alcohol free. SAOL helped me in my recovery by providing a therapeutic place and also through weekly holistic counselling sessions.

After my time in SAOL had finished I went on to UCD where I completed a Women’s Studies Power Partnership Programme. I then went onto the Trinity Access Programme, and on the back of this programme, I completed a four years honours degree in Trinity College.

I have fond memories of SAOL, where I spent my time meeting good women who were trying to better themselves through recovery and education.  SAOL highlighted the difficulties women have in their day to day life and provided me with direction, encouragement, and a purpose to a life drug-free.  SAOL was a stepping stone into furthering my education. Thanks SAOL for still being in my life today and happy birthday, Belinda


Hi all, my name is Sandra and I was in SAOL on a community employment scheme during 2004.

While in SAOL I took part in many FETAC accredited courses. Also taking part in stabilisation, reduce the use and drama. I additionally took part in classes such as health, drama, English and computers. To be honest, during my time, I was up and down because I had a lot of personal stuff going on and I was a bit manic. So at times I struggled while being in the groups. However, I learned that I wasn’t on my own, as there was other ladies in the group that had various things going on with partners, kids and everyday life.

SAOL kept me safe through much support and one to one sessions with my keyworker. Although I felt that my life was out of control, SAOL made me feel safe because we would do meditation and I could talk to the other girls. SAOL helped me with my recovery by providing awareness of my drug use and its effects; they also helped with my housing situation.

When my time was finished in SAOL, I broke away from my partner and then moved home to my parents. I continued my recovery by attending Beaumont Hospital and then I went to the Rutland Centre.  One of my fondest memories of my time in SAOL is of our Christmas party. I equally enjoyed my time getting together with the drama group.  It was a very hard time in my life but I came through it. Happy birthday, SAOL, Sandra.


Hello, my name is Louise.  I was a participant in SAOL during 2005. I began my time with SAOL on a community employment scheme.

SAOL provided me with many educational opportunities, including Hepatitis C information and awareness, child development, Reduce the Use, personal development and also the RecoverYou workshop.  During my time we also learned a lot about Rosie Hackett and the 1913 lockout.

I really enjoyed my time with SAOL. I loved meeting and interacting with new people and getting to know my peers. While at SAOL we celebrated International Women’s Day and I really enjoyed this day.

It was the support from the SAOL staff that kept me safe and I will always link-in with them. They additionally helped me to get into treatment and supported me through this.

I finished my time on community employment and I am now back participating on the Hepatitis C ‘Peer to Peer’ training.

I love having the support that SAOL provides to me and the rest of the women, to any women who needs it.


Hello my fellow SAOL sisters. Sorry I cannot be here today to share this great event with you. So I thought I would write to you a few lines about my journey so far. So for the girls who don’t know me, my name is Susan and I came to SAOL in October 2008. I had a very high tolerance to all street drugs and I was attending City Clinic, taking 125mls of methadone.

I was mentally and physically shattered. I had no confidence and half of my teeth where gone. I attended SAOL After-care 3 days a week with a bunch of great women. I found it so hard talking and I feared being judged and being talked about. The staff made it easy for me with the kind words, telling me everything was going to be ok. I was given the best key-worker, Barry. Barry was brilliant with me; I came to him with a big bag of bills and a drug bill the length of my arm. With the help of MABs and other agencies, my bills became smaller.

No matter how big or small of a problem, I had Barry to help me through them. I tried every suggestion that Barry made and attended every course that was available. I wanted this so bad this time.

I went from sitting on my own on computers to being on the telly with the help of SAOL. Oh my God, when I think back, what a journey this has been. There were days I wanted to use, quit and give it all in. I cried every day in SAOL for the first two years. I didn’t want to leave the love of my life, the drug that kept me going for over twenty years.

I didn’t want to be responsible. I was in the office with Ger and Gary more times than I was in the clinic for my Phy’, being pulled for my behaviours. God, I hated you two in them days, but little did I know each time I was pulled, it was a lesson learned and a step closer to the life I have today.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my life is not perfect and I am no Angel. But what SAOL has given me is the strength to believe. They believed in me when no one else did. They helped me to gain trust and to gain loved ones back into my life.  I have no more bills, I am two stone lighter, full of confidence and I have my smile back.

I work from the bio/psycho/social model of addiction and I kicked the habit of eight bags of heroin and twenty tablets a day. I have been through every feeling and emotion and there was days when I hated myself. The shame, guilt, pity and anger, God when I think of it, some have roller-coasters of a ride; mine was more like a ghost train but with light at the end of a tunnel. No matter how scary recovery got, the key was not to use, regardless of how I felt. If I wanted to use, I would use the word HALT, seeing was I maybe one of the following: hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

Funny, but this small word got me through my worst days in recovery and as a result I am seven years off all drugs. I never forgot where I came from and I pray that I never end up on that ghost train again.

Many thanks, your SAOL sister, Sue.


I started SAOL in 2008.  I’ll never forget walking through the door on my first day, I was so nervous.  I was thinking ‘What’s it going to be like?’ hoping that I knew someone. 

I was brought up to meet my keyworker/counsellor, her name was Ger. I had spoken to her before that, but it was different, I was going to be working with this woman a lot and I was thinking ‘what do I say to her?’ She brought me to her desk and we started to chat. Ten minutes later I was drinking a cup of tea and we were having a laugh; she brought me out of myself. I felt good. That feeling in my stomach just disappeared.

Then she brought me to the classroom and introduced me to the group. I was shocked that I actually knew a lot of people which made it even better and I loved it after that first day. I was living for the next day, so as I got started on my journey, I worked hard on myself.

I was addicted to heroin and on methadone. I knew I needed help and I heard SAOL was a good place. Still, it took me a long time to get clean. I just kept relapsing.  I was doubting myself but still kept trying because the support I got of my SAOL sisters and the staff.  It wasn’t always about recovery, it was about structure, fun for me and time even though you had to be aware of people, places and things. We would go out on days out.

One year we went to the Deerpark Hotel in Howth and at that time I was actually doing OK.  We had a fantastic time and we were treated well.  I have to say I had a whole different perspective on life then.  It was the fact that if I get off heroin I could do things like this. Then one day I was struggling with my addiction. Gary ‘the boss’ and Ger came into the group and told all us girls that there was a new course starting; it was ‘Reduce the Use’. I gave it a go. It was after SAOL hours I had my good days and bad, but I really must say, I enjoyed this course. We'd done a lot previous to this but this one was different. It helped me work on my self-esteem/confidence, my inner self and a lot of things. So after a long road, it finally helped me to take back my life and control.

I did everything in my power to just keep strong and say ‘NO’. I continued the classes with Ger and the girls. We had some great laughs in class. I was so proud of myself; my family were also proud of me. At that time my life changed. I didn’t need heroin; I was away from it as the days, weeks, months and years went by. I couldn’t believe I was away from it, the drug that was destroying my life.

I ended up completing SAOL and got my cert for ‘Reduce the Use’. I then went back to college to do my Leaving Cert, which I thank the staff and especially Ger who guided me on the right road.

I’m nearly 5yrs away from heroin now and I cannot believe it. It nearly ruined my life but without the support of the staff at SAOL, my SAOL sisters and my family only God knows what way my life would be today.  Thanks a lot. (2008-2011).


Hello, my name is Mairead and I was a participant in SAOL in the year 2010. I began my journey with SAOL as a Community Employment participant. During my time in SAOL I took part in courses such as: Computers, Drama, Personal Development and also working in the Community Gardens. Along with these classes I also took part in some major events such as: our overnight trip to Cavan and Deerpark Hotel, and the many yearly events such as World Poverty Day, and International Women’s Day. I really enjoyed our trip to Cavan and taking part in the drama group.

One of my greatest achievements while I was in SAOL was getting myself off heroin. I learnt a lot during my time in SAOL, especially how strong I am. I also learned that I had many talents, being good at different things such as drama and computers. During my time I always felt safe, and felt that SAOL provided this safe place and I loved being part of it.

My keyworker is Belinda; she has always been there whenever I needed to talk. Belinda helped me get out of my flat that was run down, and move into my beautiful apartment.

SAOL treated me as a person, and not just as an addict.

When I finished my time on the Community Employment, I joined the After-care group.  In the After-care, I have attended a lot of courses that help me to understand mental health. Belinda does the mental health awareness course: it is brilliant! I really learn a lot. Learning about stigma and mental health and how we should not hide the fact that individuals have mental illness. I also learnt a lot about the different disorders.

I have also been been a part of the IC2 HCV Peer2Peer Training to become a peer trainer. Recently, I facilitated a group exercise on ‘Risk Factors and Preventions Methods’ in the Mansion House with professionals. I am still part of the After-care group to this day. I am currently working with my group to put on a play in memory of the 1913 lockout and Rosie Hackett. I enjoy the many laughs that we share in the groups. I have learnt a lot from this course how to raise awareness that Hepatitis C virus, that there is a cure.

Over the past three years I have been involved in lots of events. SAOL has been holding service users events in Liberty Hall, Ballybough and Sheriff Street, where service users from all over Ireland have come together to discuss issues that affect them. This year Belinda got us together to think about having an event and asking question to service users to help write a report to the Minster. Gary came up with a great name for the event called ‘What Women Want – A Message for the Minister’.  So SAOL joined up with Deirdre from CTA and we got training to become social researchers and put together a questionnaire and asked the women questions on Accommodation, Relationship, Hep C and Mental Health. On Wednesday 14th October we published our second research information called Archway.

I love SAOL! It has always been there for me, Mairead.


Hi, my name is Linda. I was a participant in SAOL in the year 2012. I began my time with SAOL on a Community Employment scheme. While in SAOL I took part in many courses, including Reduce the Use, personal development and also arts and crafts.

I eventually got my own home while I was a participant with SAOL. However, during this time, my commitment to SAOL dwindled for various reasons. Due to my lack of structure, I then ended up losing my home and letting the drugs take over. With SAOL, I always know I have the support I may need. It’s amazing how much they stick by us women.

During my initial time in SAOL I did not get as much as I should have from the service, as I really didn’t think I cared. However, SAOL managed to keep me safe, as without SAOL I would have used a whole lot more. SAOL helped me to eventually see that I was worth more. I didn’t deserve what I was doing or what I was getting out of my life at the time.

I am now drug and alcohol free. It took a while but I have been in recovery sixteen months and I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey and what I have learned. One of my favourite memories of my time in SAOL was our Easter party in the Community Garden; we had a lot of fun with all the kids.  I love the support from SAOL, even when I didn’t want it, I knew it was there. I know SAOL are happy for me to be finally drug and alcohol free.

I am back in SAOL for the Aftercare programme. I am currently participating in the IC2 HCV Peer2Peer Training to become a peer trainer. Recently, I facilitated a group exercise in the Mansion House with addiction workers. I am still part of the Aftercare group to this day.

Happy birthday SAOL, Linda

Annannie Mousse

Hi all, Big Happy 20th Anniversary to SAOL Project.  I was a participant in SAOL in 2012. My time in SAOL was spent in both Community Employment and also as part of the After-care group.

In my time with SAOL I have taken part in many various classes,  these include, Reduce the Use, personal development, arts and crafts, drama, mindfulness, computers, Hepatitis C peer to peer training, community gardens and also child development.

Some of my memorable moments include ‘Talk Time’, the community gardens and International Women’s Day.

In SAOL, the staff are always on hand if any of us need to speak to them, regardless of how busy they are or what it is we need to speak about.

When I first came to SAOL, I was naïve in regards to my drug use. I was challenged in my thinking and, at times, I was also arrogant to how I treated myself and others around me. SAOL helped me to keep myself safe.  They taught me harm reduction methods. Also, there is always somebody at the end of the phone, so we can talk with somebody if we are feeling vulnerable. SAOL also provided me with a deeper understanding of my addiction and my coping skills.

When my time with SAOL CE was finished, I continued with my recovery and went into detox. I went onto further education and also employment.

One of my most memorable moments in SAOL was our trip to the Cavan centre; this was a brilliant bonding session for us all.

Initially when I arrived, I was not street wise. By meeting and socialising with some participants I was introduced to other drugs. However, today I am more confident, street smart and I can say ‘no’! It has been a journey that at times was harrowing and distressing, but today I am stronger and stabilised. I am in a good place.

I don’t believe that the C.E was productive in my drug use personally, thinking perhaps I would have been better suited to a day programme where drug use is screened. In saying that, I’ve never experienced a more supportive, empathetic, amazing (and also challenging!) group of professionals who have had a positive, profound effect on my life. And I know that I will always be a proud SAOL sister.


Hello, my name is Meadhbh and I spent time with SAOL throughout 2014 and 2015. I was really happy when I was asked to say a few words about my time in SAOL, especially as we celebrate SAOL’s 20th Birthday.  To be honest before coming to SAOL, the thought of standing up in front of a room full of people to speak would have been my worst nightmare.

I have always suffered badly with my anxiety and I would not have had the confidence to do this. In my time in SAOL my confidence and self-esteem grew more than I ever could have imagined and I did things I would have never believed I could do.

With the belief and support given to me and the other girls we grew. I’ve helped out at ‘Talk Time’ in Sheriff St. Hall and read out our ideas and points. Then we had another ‘Talk Time’ and again I stood up in front of a hall full of staff and our peers and spoke. We sang down at the docks and made a film for International Poverty Day and we did drama, putting on plays with members of the Abbey. We also wrote a book of poetry and read our work at ‘The Writers Club’ for the launch with Rita Ann Higgins.

Through these things I discovered a love of writing and have been given an amazing opportunity to do a writing course thanks to Phil Kingston from The Abbey. Even saying these things out loud, I cannot believe that I was a part of them. I finally feel that I have something to be proud of and I am sure my SAOL sisters feel the same.

Due to SAOL I have left behind my chaotic drug use and I got support for all the things that can knock us back. My key-worker Barry was always there if I needed to talk, as were all the staff. I am a few days away from going into Cuan Dara detox and Keltoi treatment centre to come off my methadone and tablets and continue on my journey of recovery.

I don’t know where I would be if had not come through the doors of SAOL and I am so glad to know that SAOL is here for all the women that come after me as they take their first steps into recovery. SAOL is a very special, safe place and I will always be grateful for the help I got from you all. I wish all my SAOL sisters, past, present and future the best of luck with everything.

We all deserve this and we can do this.  Thanks for everything SAOL J


Just to say a big happy 20th anniversary to SAOL Project. The fact that it is still going after 20 years is testimony to the great work done there by all the girls and staff who have entered the building throughout the years in the hopes of bettering themselves and their community.

I know from personal experience that I have always been given support, encouragement and direction, no matter what choices or what road I have travelled down. It is a home away from home and the reason I would always return is because I know I will never be judged or criticised for the choices I’ve made.

It is always a place I have been understood, welcomed in and felt comfortable in; words alone do not express my gratitude for the wonderful people of SAOL, the friends I have made or the training and opportunities I have been given.  It represents a light at the end of the tunnel for so many who feel they have lost their way.

So it is with the greatest respect I wish all in the project a happy anniversary with many more to come. Thank you for everything, Veronica (2013) J  


Happy birthday SAOL, thinking of those group members that have passed on Anita, Anna and Lizo, from Aida (1995/97)


Happy birthday SAOL. I joined the Community Employment group in SAOL in November 2011. I had so many good times and laughed so much in my time there. Our Halloween parties were some of my favourite times in SAOL. We all got to dress up and have great fun. Every year one lady, who shall remain nameless, used to dress in some wacky costumes. One year it was a pimp; then she was an Oompa Loompa. She is such a character.

The Christmas parties were always brilliant as well.  We had the karaoke competition. Most of us couldn't sing to save our lives but it was great fun. I'll always look back on my time in SAOL with a smile on my face.

After my time in the Community Employment, I joined the Aftercare programme. During my time on the Aftercare programme, I put in the work became drug free. My next step was to focus on education; I went to CASPr for two years and completed FETAC Level 5 in Early Childhood Care and Education.

I am currently on an access programme in Plunket College and hoping to begin my degree programme next year, Siobhan (2011-15).


Happy birthday SAOL.  Belinda thanks for thinking about me, as always.

I joined the Aftercare programme two years ago in 2013. One of the most fun memories I have was that I participated in creating the song for Rosie Hackett. And had lots of laughter, practised with all the girls; we had a real comradeship and great fun.

I’m working as a cook now. Good hours, money is not bad and my relationships with my family and friends are improving.  You guys saved me!  I thank you. Tell all the girls I said ‘hello’, Helena (2013).


Happy birthday SAOL,

A couple of weeks ago in Maria’s (CDETB Tutor) maths class our group had our check-out. But I mis-heard what the check-out topic was and shouted ‘are we talking about WILLYS! Everyone nearly wetted themselves. I was so embarrassed but it was funny when Edel told me the way I said it.

I will tell you how I blurted that out!  Lol! Louise (2015).


Happy birthday SAOL.

One of my favourite times in SAOL was when we went out to The New Theatre to watch a play about the 1913 lockout where Rosie Hackett was in court. We were doing a project on The Lock-Out and the play gave us real insight on how Rosie Hackett was. It was great play and great to get night out with SAOL.  Nora (2015). 


Happy birthday SAOL.

I can't think of anything funny but I do know if it wasn't for SAOL letting me do my addiction studies course with them I wouldn't be where I am today in life.

I never enjoyed doing something as much as I loved doing the course with Gary and Belinda. I met some lovely people while doing the course and it's an experience I’ll never forget, Michelle (2014/15).


Happy birthday SAOL.

I came through SAOL doors in 2010 and joined the Aftercare Support Programme. There were very creative courses and I enjoyed my time. I then joined the Community Research group. The research topic was to ask participants that have been through SAOL about their experiences. The research was called ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’. It was a great experience getting to ask people questions. Then I got some funding from the Annie Kelly Bursary and was able to do the Community and Addiction Studies FETAC Level 5, I really enjoined it.  Jade

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