TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge today (Wednesday, 4 March), visited Ireland’s leading social justice charity, Extern, as part of their first official visit to Ireland.

Their Royal Highnesses visited Extern’s family respite centre, Savannah House, in Clane, Co. Kildare, to learn more about the charity’s work to empower young people and support them in developing important life skills.

Operating in 27 counties across Ireland, each year Extern supports over 20,000 people to change their lives, including young people and families facing challenges in their lives, people who are homeless, people living with mental health issues, people with an offending past, people living with problem drug and alcohol use and minority communities.

The visit is the second to the all-Ireland charity by The Duke and Duchess in just over a year. On 27th February, 2019, during their visit to Northern Ireland, Extern also welcomed Their Royal Highnesses to its Roscor Youth Village in Co. Fermanagh.

While there The Duke and Duchess met young people supported by the charity and joined them in a head to head canoe race on Lough Erne.

During today’s visit, Their Royal Highnesses spent time with 18 young people, hearing how they have benefitted from Extern’s life-changing supports and their time at Savannah House.

One of four family respite centres operated by Extern, Savannah House has welcomed over 2,500 children from across Ireland since opening its doors in 2011. It offers children who would not otherwise get the chance of a break, to avail of some time away, while others can come to stay when they are facing challenging situations at home, or in care, and while they are being supported on one of Extern’s programmes.

One of the key focuses for Extern with young people staying at Savannah House is the development of independent living skills, including how they can best manage their own health and wellbeing, how to budget, and learning about healthy eating. They are also taught basic cookery skills and how to cook a range of simple, but nourishing meals, which they can then recreate at home.

While at Savannah today, Their Royal Highnesses joined the young people as they discussed the budget for a meal and what ingredients to buy. The Duke and Duchess then joined some of the children on a trip to the local Londis shop in Clane village to buy their ingredients. Their Royal Highnesses then returned to the kitchen in Savannah to join with the young people as they prepared vegetable soup and cookies.

While staying at Savannah on overnight respite breaks, children are also encouraged to undertake a range of other fun and educational activities which help them build much-needed resilience and self-confidence around issues they may be facing in their lives.

Today, The Duke and Duchess also met with Extern staff and heard how these activities are used by them as a conduit for the delivery of their life-changing psychological and social care interventions.

Their Royal Highnesses were also introduced to Extern’s Group Chair, Gerard Campbell, who is also CEO of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools in Northern Ireland; CEO of Extern, Charlie Mack, and Extern Managers, Sarah Healy from Rush, Co. Dublin and Darren Conroy from Kilcock, Co. Kildare.

Speaking about the visit, Charlie Mack, CEO of Extern, said: “It was a tremendous honour to welcome The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Extern today on their first official visit to Ireland. It was also a unique honour for Extern, as Their Royal Highnesses have now taken the time to visit our projects, and meet some of the children we are supporting, in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“The children we support are truly inspirational, and Extern is committed to providing them with the opportunity to discover strengths and abilities they never knew they had. It was wonderful to once again witness the enthusiasm and passion Their Royal Highnesses have for encouraging and empowering children. I know this day will live long in the memory of the young people and staff who were here at Savannah House today.”

Gerard Campbell, Extern Group Chair, added: “Following their visit to our Roscor Youth Village last year in Northern Ireland, it was a huge privilege to welcome The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge back to Extern today to meet some of the young people we support in the Republic of Ireland. When things go wrong at home, or in care, it can often be children who feel the brunt, and that’s where Extern makes a real difference."

"It was therefore wonderful today to see Their Royal Highnesses listen so attentively to the young people about some of the challenges they face, and to hear more about how the world-class specialist social care interventions we offer at our respite centres, including Savannah House, are enabling them to plot a brighter future for themselves.”

Before leaving Extern’s Savannah House, the young people presented The Duke and Duchess with a gift of the handmade bunting for their own children and a posy of flowers.

Today’s visit to Extern follows on from a memorable few weeks for Extern during which the charity has received several international and national awards.  In line with the charity’s vision to be a global leader in changing lives, it recently received the Community Corrections Award at the Correctional Excellence Awards in Buenos Aires, Argentina, organised by the International Corrections & Prisons Association (ICPA).

The award was in recognition of Extern’s Bail Supervision Scheme (BSS) which is funded through Ireland’s Department of Children and Youth Affairs which reduced reoffending among participants by 72%. Extern’s Assistant Director, Mal Byrne, was recently named Social Worker of the Year, and Extern’s team in Cherry Orchard, Dublin, also received the prestigious Investing in Children Membership Award.

Since 1978, Extern has grown to become the leading social justice charity across the island of Ireland. Believing another chance can change a life, today Extern has over 90 projects, operating out of 40 locations across Irelanddelivering world-class social care interventions to transform the lives of 20,000 people each year. 

In addition to its work alongside children, young people and families, Extern also supports people who are homeless, or who are living with homelessness, people living with mental health issues, people living with problem drug and alcohol use, people experiencing problem gambling, people living with an offending past, those living with the impact of suicide and minority communities.