THE overwhelming feedback from the fifth annual ‘Hope, Healing and Growth’ event held virtually on Saturday, January 8 was one of a “feeling of privilege to have had the opportunity to listen to such a powerful and inspiring group of speakers”, say organisers of the Aisling Centre event.

Speakers from across the island of Ireland courageously and professionally shared their diverse and challenging stories along with their lessons of hope in the face of adversity as they took part in Hope, Healing and Growth via a virtual platform.

Alison Annan, chairperson of the Aisling Centre, emphasised how the Enniskillen event with a global reach is “a key part of raising awareness of the importance of mental health and its role in terms of enabling and informing people on self-care, and how to live life more fully and positively”.

She noted how it is “a vital opportunity” to highlight the support and services that are available for people to reach out and access the help they may need.

The Hope, Healing and Growth event moved successfully to a virtual format in 2021 in response to the ongoing pandemic and the roll-call of illustrious speakers has grown exponentially.

This year was no exception. Aideen McGinley, a member of the Aisling Centre Board of Directors, introduced speakers to the regional and international audience as they participated in a range of presentations, discussions and conversations, culminating in a panel plenary session with members of Aisling Centre team.

Sr. Edel Bannon, a lifetime honorary member of Aisling Centre, opened the event with positivity, highlighting the opportunity there is for everyone to “do something hope-related every day”.


Speaker Eileen Forrestal started the day by encouraging people to find their voice and discover the healing power of words.

She was followed by Jack Kavanagh, who spoke movingly of his tragic accident at the age of 20 that left him a quadriplegic, and how “it changed everything and nothing”.

He also discussed the challenges he faced in learning to breathe again – the true meaning of the word ‘inspire’ – and his road to independence and just living life.

Jonny McCambridge, author of ‘Afraid of the Dark’, which outlines his life journey of depression, is a role model for other men, encouraging them to speak up about their mental health issues.

He stressed how such issues can affect people throughout their lives, and how depression can affect anyone regardless of status or circumstance.

Mandy Chism poignantly described her journey of hope following hurt after the loss of her daughter, Elle, to suicide.

Her belief is that building resilience is about reaching in as well as reaching out, and how she has found purpose in helping others with her work with Resilio.

Joe Slattery gave a vivid account of growing up in a deprived area of Limerick, highlighting how easy it is to fall on the wrong side of life, and how many young people don’t have choices.

His understanding and experience of how to discover his own worth is applied extensively in his work on addiction counselling with young people and their families.

The final speaker of the day was local woman Melanie Grimsley, whose journey of recovery started at the age of two after being rescued from a tragic car fire where she lost her sister.

She spoke movingly of the importance of embracing both your strengths and vulnerabilities, and illustrated the importance of ‘small wins’, advocating that everyone needs to “have courage, hope and belief in ourselves and all you need to do today is to do better than you did yesterday”.

A moving contribution

The lunchtime breathing space included a moving contribution from artist Sheila Gilroy-Collins where she spoke about the process by which she had created a collage of Aisling Centre, entitled ‘You Can’.

Artist Sheila Gilroy-Collins spoke about the process by which she had created an amazing collage of Aisling Centre titled ‘YOU CAN’.

Artist Sheila Gilroy-Collins spoke about the process by which she had created an amazing collage of Aisling Centre titled ‘YOU CAN’.

Noelle McAlinden, in joining the panel discussion as one of the organisers of the event, acknowledged how moving and inspiring the event was, and that Hope, Healing and Growth can’t be rushed as it takes, time, patience, support and trust as well as, in some cases, the support of professional expertise.

Concluding the plenary session, John Bennett, the clinical coordinator in Aisling Centre, thanked the line-up of speakers for their courage in speaking out in what was “a special moment to explore the stress, lack of meaning and self-doubt they had shared so honestly”.

Iain Kennedy, Chairperson of the fundraising committee, thanked all the speakers individually for having the courage to have faced such huge challenges, to tell their stories and share their learning to help others in similar situations to cope and live well.

Actor Adrian Dunbar, patron of the Aisling Centre, brought the event to a mindful conclusion, recognising the increasing importance of the work of the centre in creating a safe space in a time of a pandemic when isolation had heightened introspection.

He highlighted the positivity of the event and the vital role of the centre as a focal point for hope in the community, acknowledging the support of volunteers as well as health professionals.

Concluding, he read the Derek Mahon poem, ‘Everything is Going to be All Right’.

The success of the event continues to grow, and it has become a beacon of hope at the start of the New Year – in the words of Jonny McCambridge, the event is “a real tonic – a summer’s day in the heart of winter”.