Families unite to combat eating disorders – Irish Independent, June 5 2017

Since its inception, the New Maudsley Model has helped thousand of families. Amy Lewis talks to one of the founders, Gillian Todd, at her recent workshop in Dublin and she meets parents attending to find out how it has helped them cope with their loved ones’ eating disorders.

When families are dealing with a child who is suffering from an eating disorder, the symptoms begin to play a central role in family life and often the parents and siblings find themselves lost at sea, not knowing how to help – this is where the New Maudsley Model steps in.

The New Maudsley Model is a skills-based programme that aims to helps carers better understand and support their loved ones. It was established by Professor Janet Treasure and Todd (pictured) ­- former Consultant for Eating Disorders and Clinical Nurse Leader with the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust respectively – who developed it through extensive research coupled with professional experience. The workshop encourages carers to engage in their loved one’s recovery and helps to switch their focus from blame to more effective communication.

“A carer can often be critical and over-protective of their loved one. They may also feel that the illness is their own fault, which of course it isn’t,” said Todd, who has worked with eating disorder patients since 1984.

“Janet developed characters that describe how not to behave. The Ostrich – buries their head in the sand and feels completely hopeless. The Jellyfish – is emotional and upset. The Rhino – is a person who shouts, argues and fights. A Kangaroo carer – puts their baby in their pouch and won’t let them do anything.

“We encourage carers to be a more compromised version. Be a St Bernard: more calm, quiet, unflappable and dependable. We also use the image of a dolphin who nudges, guides and coaches their loved one along.”

Carers are also taught about the psychology behind eating disorders, as well as how to cope with scenarios that may arise at home. This is done through role-playing exercises and practicing OARS: Open questions, Affirmations, Reflective listening and Summarising. In addition, the workshops offer attendees the tools to deal with clinical settings.

A unique part of New Maudsley Model is that it’s aimed at carers of adults and children.

“In the past, carers of adults with eating disorders felt abandoned and excluded. This is one thing that’s out there that they can go to,” explained Todd.

Since they were established, the New Maudsley Model workshops have been facilitated worldwide by its founders or other trained professionals. Over 70 carers attended Todd’s recent two-day course in the Clayton Hotel in Leopardstown, Dublin, in the hope of going home better-equipped to help their loved ones. Parents, aunts, siblings, friends and partners travelled long distances for the course, with some seeking help for children as young as nine-years-old. Several psychologists from the HSE Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) also attended, as did representatives of Bodywhys, who supported the workshop.

Peter travelled from Ballina with his wife to the workshop, having previously attended a one-day course. His daughter (29) has been suffering with an eating disorder since she was in transition year.

“We first became aware of her illness seven years ago when she was in university,” he explained. “She always ate in front of us so we never suspected it. She used to see a doctor in university who, after a number of years, persuaded her to tell us.”

On first learning of their daughter’s illness, Peter’s family felt extremely alone. They sought all help available but it wasn’t until attending their first New Maudsley Model workshop that they were offered some relief.

“For the first time, we felt that there were people out there like us,” said Peter. “When you have a child with an eating disorder, the focus is on them,” he continued. “I remember asking a social worker, ‘is there anything for us carers?’ You just want somebody to tell you it’s ok, not to lose hope and to try to have compassion.”

Along with offering them support, Peter said that the practical element of the workshop gave them the tools to communicate more effectively with their daughter.

Though she is still battling the illness, the workshop has encouraged them to remain hopeful for her future. He also credits it with giving them the ‘courage’ to recently take their first holiday in years.

While Todd led the latest workshop, several others have been held nationwide in recent months. These were facilitated by professionals who have been trained in the New Maudsley method by its founders.

Galway native Paul and his wife attended a workshop last November, soon after their 11-year-old son was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

“When your child refuses the food you give them, it can become very frustrating. We needed to understand his feelings in order to help him,” explained Paul.

According to Paul, the workshop taught them how to support their child, while meeting other parents gave them some positivity for the future. He recommends it to all carers.

“I read about various methods but that’s the one that worked for us,” explained Paul, who said his son’s health is now much improved. “When your child is young or in their teens, they are with you almost 24/7. If you know how to guide them through recovery at home, it has to be better than just one hour a week with a counsellor.

“The big thing we took away from it is that you really have to throw yourself into their recovery 10,000pc,” he added.

When Connie’s daughter was first diagnosed with an eating disorder, she didn’t know where to turn for help. Attending her first New Maudsley Model workshop gave her the support she was seeking and in an effort to spread this to other carers, she soon invited the facilitators to hold one in her hometown in the west of Ireland.

“You do get information elsewhere but when you attend these courses and gain support through them, that is the most important thing.”

A Whatsapp group that allows carers to keep in touch following the workshops is something she also credits as a great comfort.

“There is huge power in people supporting each other,” she said.

Connie’s daughter (21) has been receiving treatment in London for six months and though she is still in recovery, the family are confident that she is getting the best help available. Connie also feels that the workshops have helped them to better support their loved one.

“We know more about what is going on for her and she is feeling more understood,” she said.

The New Maudsley Model workshops were not available in Ireland when Catherine’s daughter was caught in the grip of anorexia four years ago. However, on learning about it through a colleague, the Dublin-based GP went to London to attend them.

“Parents can get bogged down with the cause of an eating disorder but I learned that this is less important than the factors that maintain it,” she explained. “If there is stress at home, that feeds in to the eating disorder.”

According to Catherine, the workshops were ‘vital’ in helping her daughter through recovery.

“They encouraged us to create an environment of compassion and support, rather than blame. My daughter realised the illness wasn’t her fault and that it didn’t destroy the family. She learned that everyone was behind her to get better.”

Catherine’s daughter, now aged 16, is fully recovered. However, as a GP, Catherine regularly meets parents who are in the same position that she once was. She urged them all to attend the recent workshop.

“Parents were once blamed for the illness but that myth has been debunked. Parents are now part of the solution,” added Catherine.

Many of the New Maudsley Model workshops, including the most recent one, were arranged by Paula Crotty – a Dublin mother whose 23-year-old daughter has battled an eating disorder for over three years. Since attending her first workshop, Paula has been working to get New Maudsley firmly established in Ireland and as a result, Bodywhys recently announced that they will adopt and run the courses in the future. In the meantime, Paula continues to support fellow carers in various ways, such as organising meetings after the workshops and sharing advice.
Paula also established the Whatsapp group which over 70 carers view as a lifeline. The option to join is offered at the end of each workshop.

“If someone is having a low day, group members can give them encouragement to keep their head above the water. It’s also useful if somebody has a question or needs a therapist recommendation,” she said.

Following Todd’s recent workshop, Bodywhys made the decision to adopt the New Maudsley workshops alongside their existing services. However, according to their Training and Development Manager, Harriet Parsons, facilitators will need to be trained in the method before they can commence.

Bodywhys currently offers several supports to carers including a helpline, email support and a free downloadable book. They also run their free PiLaR programme for families of adults and children, which educates on eating disorders and provides advice on supporting someone through recovery.

 

■ Gillian will return to Dublin to facilitate another New Maudsley workshop on September 9 and 10. For more information on the method or to reserve a place, contact newmaudsleyworkshop@gmail.com.

■ Bodywhys run their PiLaR (Peer-Led Resiliance) programme in various locations around the country. The free evening course, which is run by Bodywhys in conjunction with local mental health services, takes place over four consecutive Mondays. Places are free but limited. To book a place or for more information contact Harriet at helpline@bodywhys.ie. Bodywhys helpline: 1890 200 444

Email support: alex@body whys.ie

(First published in the Irish Independent on June 5 2017. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/healthy-eating/families-unite-to-combat-eating-disorders-35781838.html)

Is tracking technology putting creatures in danger? – Irish Times, April 13 2017

Electronic tracking or telemetry is a tool used to gain insight into species behaviour. Data gathered through this method helps to expand our knowledge on certain creatures and serves as a stepping stone to developing conservation strategies and informing policy. However, recent research indicates that it may be a double-edged sword.

A paper on research led by Prof Steven Cooke in Conservation Biology illustrates how poachers are using tracking technology to locate and kill the very species it was intended to protect. One method discussed is“cyber poaching”: the act of hacking into GPS collars to track down animals. The paper points to one notable – yet thankfully thwarted – attempt in India involving a Bengal tiger.

Hacking GPS systems takes “serious computing abilities”, but Cooke said it is relatively easy to tamper with basic devices.

“With a simple radio tag, you can buy a receiver for $300 (€280) online, turn the dial until you hear the animal, and go and find it,” the biology professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University told The Irish Times.

Cooke and fellow researchers also looked at how other groups can abuse tracking devices. An example occurred in Banff National Park, where photographers used personal telemetry equipment to locate wildlife in their quest for a perfect snapshot. As a result, Parks Canada implemented a public ban on VHF radio receivers.

Data gathered through telemetry is often made publicly available by researchers, particularly online. The paper describes how open-access data can prove problematic, with the researchers stressing the need to “share data in forms that do not facilitate abuse”.

“Telemetry provides data that people find interesting and easy to understand but there are ways to tell a story without telling exact animal positions,” said Cooke.

Data misuse

Since the paper was released, many people have come forward with examples of tracking and data misuse. A conference on the issue will be held in Australia in June. “We wanted to get the community talking like this so we can act before it is too late,” said Cooke.

Chairman of the Golden Eagle Trust Ronan Hannigan said tracking is an extremely useful tool, especially for monitoring re-released birds. Though he does not view hacking as a threat here, the trust guards sensitive data, particularly with highly-persecuted animals such as peregrines.

To avoid interference, the Golden Eagle Trust strives to keep nest locations private. If information is leaked, however, they find it safer to make it completely public. “Most people become natural custodians for animals if they know they are there and so it becomes too risky for poachers to target them,” said Hannigan.

When deciding to reveal an animal’s location, Dr Colin Lawton from the NUIG zoology department, says he believes it should be treated on a case-by-case basis.

“It depends whether an animal is particularly sensitive to interference,” says Dr Lawton, who has used radio tracking to monitor squirrels without major issue. “We want to be open without causing a problem to the species. Overall though, I’ve a lot of faith in the public.”

While acknowledging that sharing animal locations on social media can prove problematic – an issue touched upon in Cooke’s paper – Lawton finds the tool beneficial for disseminating and collecting information.

Lecturer in wildlife conservation and zoonotic epidemiology in University College Dublin Dr Barry McMahon says that preventing the abuse of telemetry and data requires the management of people.

“It’s not about the management of data but the management of how humans respond to having specific information,” he said.“Before researching a species, you must carry out studies to see where stakeholders are, how they feel about the creature and how they are being treated.”

Sustainable option

Whether studying Irish wildlife or a threatened species abroad, he feels this strategy is effective. “If a species is being poached, you must ask, Why are people poaching? They are probably in a terrible situation,” he said.“You would hope that, through working with these groups, they might find an alternative, more sustainable option.”

McMahon is a firm believer in open-access data. Though recognising its drawbacks, he feels legislation will eventually adapt to prevent abuses of this model.

Director of the National Biodiversity Data Centre Dr Liam Lysaght is “not aware” of examples of the abuse of telemetry in Ireland but he too stresses the need for risk assessment studies prior to research or disseminating information. While there is a “small suite of species” for which he feels the need to “blur data”, overall, he says that withholding data does more harm than good.

“Over the last 30 years, nature conservation has suffered tremendously in Ireland,” he said.“Data on rarer species has been restricted as people feel making it available might threaten them. This policy hasn’t helped conservation.”

In recent years, he has witnessed researchers becoming more open. This has raised the profile of certain species and is also key in issues such as informing planning decisions.

“Open access is the only way forward,” he said.“The transition from a protective attitude to an open one has been fundamental to what we do.”

PANEL: TAKING TO THE SKIES

Irish researchers may not view poaching as a concern for most native species, but it is a threat to others worldwide, particularly those perceived as valuable such as rhinoceros and elephant. In an effort to conquer poaching in South Africa’s national parks, global defence and aerospace company Paramount Group decided to aim high – literally.

The Johannesburg-based group recently began training dogs in their Anti-Poaching and Canine Training Academy to parachute from planes and helicopters in tandem with a handler. So far, one dog has been trained, with many more set to follow.

“With the African bush being such a vast wilderness and sometimes inaccessible via vehicle, it became clear that alternative methods of insertion must be considered,” said a spokesperson.“Parachuting enables getting the dogs on the ground as fast as possible.”

Though the parachute initiative is in its infancy, the canine anti-poaching unit has already seen success. One dog, Killer, and his handler have been responsible for the arrest of 115 groups of poachers in Kruger.

“These dogs have proven to be the most effective tool . . . [for] stopping or finding poachers,” said the spokesperson.“Before the use of dogs in anti-poaching operations, the success rate was extremely low due to the vast and dense bush. Today, almost every anti-poaching unit has dogs assisting them.”

(First published in the Irish Times print edition on April 13, 2017. Also available online at: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/is-tracking-technology-putting-creatures-in-danger-1.3035028)

Lending a helping hand – the path to recovery from an eating disorder, Irish Independent, March 1 2017

An estimated 200,000 in Ireland suffer from an eating disorder. Amy Lewis looks at how the path to recovery can affect friends and family members.

As Eating Disorder Awareness Week rolls around for another year, we are once again reminded of the statistics: an estimated 200,000 people in Ireland are currently suffering from an eating disorder.

Jacqueline Campion and her mother Marie
Jacqueline Campion and her mother Marie. Photo: Jacqueline Campion.

Yet, the figures do not take into account the many parents and other carers who are fighting a daily battle to help their loved ones through recovery. These people do not seek or need awareness, rather they need knowledge, support and better services for their loved ones.

Dublin woman Paula Crotty is one such person. Her journey began three years ago when she first noticed signs that her 20-year-old daughter was developing an eating disorder.

“A few months before we realised she had a problem, she had said that her mood was low and she had gone to her GP. When we realised she was having trouble with an eating disorder, we talked to her but the decision to get help had to be hers as she was over 18,” she explains.

Paula’s daughter (now 23) sought treatment and was later admitted as an inpatient in a public hospital in Dublin. After almost a year, she was discharged and the family were told by hospital staff that they had done all that they could to help her. However, concerned that her daughter was still critically unwell, Paula and her family fought to get the treatment that she required in the Vincent’s Square Eating Disorder Centre in London where she remained for 10 months.

“We went to visit her at least every other week. We had family therapy and meetings with the medical team. It put a lot of extra strain on the family but we felt like something had been done. She didn’t come back better but she certainly came back stronger,” she says.

For Paula, getting this specialist help was the difference between life and death for her daughter, who is still taking each day as it comes but is now home and back in university.

“The services in Ireland are extremely limited,” she says. “People are dying every year as a result of eating disorders. If I were relying on the healthcare system here, my daughter would have been one of them a year and a half ago.”

Paula added that it is extremely important for parents in similar situations to look after themselves and communicate honestly with their other children.

Recent figures from the national eating disorder association Bodywhys show that 47pc of calls come from concerned parents and friends, while 16pc of emails come from the same group. However, carers come in many forms.

“Eating disorders don’t discriminate. They affect everyone from every background, sex, race or age,” says Trish Shiel, clinical manager of the Eating Disorder Centre Cork (EDCC). “We’ve had mothers with grown children; we have people coming with their partners.” Trish recommends the same approach for all carers: have compassion and try to understand the illness.

“The most important thing is to get as much education as you can on it,” she says. “You also need to separate your loved one from the illness so that you aren’t seeing the behaviour as the person. This is a full-blown mental health condition. The person may be functioning but they are still going through an incredibly difficult time.

“Carers also really need to mind themselves… A carer can become obsessed with the illness and burn out.”

When a carer becomes invested in a person’s recovery, it can often cause conflict within a family. Debbie Howard (34) from Bangor, Co Down, has witnessed this, both on a personal level and in her role as a psychotherapist specialising in eating disorders.

“I had an eating disorder when I was younger and the services here were pretty awful at the time. I was treated in London as an outpatient. I would fly over every Wednesday for therapy,” she explains.

“Throughout all of that time, my mum and dad had nowhere to go. They had no idea what to do with me… They would shout or beg or plead or try to do anything because they were so scared.”

The feeling of fear among carers is understandable. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. However, despite reality, Debbie says it’s important not to be forceful. “The more you force things, the more you are pushing them away,” she says. “I would bring it up by saying ‘you don’t seem like yourself’. Then they might think, ‘maybe I could talk to them about this as they are not shouting and judging and telling me what to do’.”

In light of her own journey, Debbie also advises carers to help their loved one to find a therapist that they are comfortable with, saying that this is what saved her.

Years after her own recovery and after she became a psychotherapist, Debbie and her family discovered a programme in London for carers known as the New Maudsley Model. This skills-based programme is used worldwide to help carers understand eating disorders and support their loved ones. They received training from the facilitators and began to offer the course through their Caring About Recovery from Eating Disorders (CARED) organisation. Though based in Northern Ireland, CARED can facilitate courses throughout the country.

“The courses help carers to think about and treat the illness in a different way,” says Debbie, who is chairperson of CARED. “If their loved one had cancer would you shout and scream if a tumour isn’t shrinking quick enough?”

Just as cancer takes many forms, so too do eating disorders. Despite having suffered from an eating disorder herself and working with clients with eating disorders as a therapist, nothing could prepare Marie Campion (62) for her daughter Jacqueline’s illness.

“It is very different to be a therapist and a parent,” says Marie, founder of the Marino Therapy Centre. “As a parent, you go straight to denial first.”

Marie also wondered if she had influenced Jacqueline’s eating disorder. However, instead of blaming herself, she applied the techniques that helped her own recovery, encouraging her daughter to talk about her feelings and reassuring her that recovery is possible.

“This language of freedom is about teaching the person that they don’t have to always live with the illness. It’s about believing in recovery,” she says. She adds that it is important to understand that disordered eating is a symptom of an internal distress, rather than the primary issue.

Now fully recovered and working as an eating disorder therapist alongside her mother, Jacqueline (27) credits this language of freedom as a huge influence in her recovery.

“The reassurance from my parents that this illness was temporary really helped me,” she says. When Marie was unwell over two decades ago, she was told that she would have to cope with her illness for life.

“Nowadays people are still told that. We constantly talk about awareness. Everyone knows what eating disorders are. What we really need is awareness about recovery,” she says. Through their work at the Marino Therapy Centre, Marie and Jacqueline aim to spread this message.

Meanwhile, others are also helping improve the situation. Bodywhys continues to offer support and group therapy, both to carers and those experiencing an eating disorder. In collaboration with University College Cork, EDCC recently completed a study on GPs’ knowledge of eating disorders and the findings will be published later this year.

Inspired by her own family’s experience, Paula has organised for eating disorder expert Gill Todd to come to Ireland in April to hold an updated version of the New Maudsley workshop.

Supported by Bodywhys, if successful, it is hoped that they will adopt and run the course regularly.

“I encourage anyone in the same situation to come along, meet other parents and carers and know that they’re not alone,” says Paula.

(First published in the Irish Independent newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/life/family/family-features/lending-a-helping-hand-the-path-to-recovery-from-an-eating-disorder-35490752.html)

Fireworks will be watched by 20,000 people – Wexford People, October 29 2016

A total of 358kg of fireworks will be launched into the sky for this Wednesday’s fireworks display – and at a cost of €15,000, it certainly won’t be a night of cheap thrills.

Two vanloads packed with over 2,000 individual fireworks coupled with the work of over 100 volunteers are behind the spectacular sight but in the end, it will all boil down to the 12-minute display.

The speeches kick off at 7 p.m., and organisers expect 20,000 pairs of eyes on the sky when the fireworks display begins at 7.30 p.m.

All of the fireworks are Chinese in origin, with creative names to fit the nature of the festival to follow. Popping flowers, silver spinning serpents and red and silver comets are just some of the creatures due to dance across the dark canvas of the sky. The display will combine the exotic with a taste of home, as plenty of green, white and gold designs will also be featured.

Supplier Pat ‘KC’ Whelan of Nationwide Fireworks has once again been tasked with ensuring the opening ceremony is a roaring success. His main piece of advice is to come early.

‘People should arrive early, find their spot and make themselves comfortable,’ said Pat.

Those who listen to Pat’s golden advice may save themselves a euro or two as for the first year, there will be free car parking at Ferrybank beside the council carpark.

This has been put in place to ensure that cars are not parked on the road beside the bridge.

As a family event, Pat encourages people of all ages to come along to the display, but no matter how close you are with your canine companion, he strongly advises people not to bring dogs. Drones are also a no go on the night.

‘If people have drones, we ask them to leave them at home. If they bring them, there is a great danger of them crossing over the fireworks and hitting someone in the crowd,’ said Pat. ‘Last year, there were a number of drones going around so we have to warn people not to bring them.’

The organisers have covered every aspect of safety to make sure the event goes off without a hitch. Fifty stewards will be on hand around the town to assist anyone in need on the night. Wexford Civil Defence, Order of Malta, Wexford RNLI, MarineWatch, Gardaí and Wexford Fire Service will also be on board. The fireworks will be launched from the protective arm and ballast bank and to ensure safety, an exclusion zone will be erected around both sites. It will also be closed to marine traffic from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m., while Irish Rail will hold a train at the station to cooperate with the display.

There will also be a medical plan in place in the incident of any emergencies. Thankfully, Pat said that this is something that they have never had to resort to.

Weather is something that can’t be prepared for but according to Pat, the forecast shows Wednesday to be a clear night. Rain, hail or shine, the event will still go ahead.

‘The only thing that will stop us is gale-force wind coming into the quay,’ said Pat.

With everything in place, all that’s left for visitors to do is find parking. All of the carparks in Wexford will be open to the public, with some disabled spaces opposite Wexford Credit Union.

Finding a viewing spot is very much a personal preference. While some people enjoy watching from Wexford bridge or Ferrybank, others get a view from a distance at spots such as St Peter’s College, Mulgannon or Rosslare.

With the countdown officially on for the night, the town is buzzing with excitement. And despite organising the display for over 30 years, Pat himself is as eager as the rest.

‘I’m like a big child. I haven’t grown up!’ he said. ‘I have been doing it for years and it’s still as exciting as ever.’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/fireworks-will-be-watched-by-20000-people-35157955.html)

Clonard native Emer Mulhall makes a toast to the year ahead as Wexford Toastmasters president – Wexford People, October 22 2016

Having been born with a visual impairment, Clonard resident Emer Mulhall has faced many challenges throughout her life yet she has embraced each one with great enthusiasm.

Now, on recently been elected this year’s President of the Wexford Toastmasters Club, she is gearing up to take yet another one on board. Though such a responsibility could send even the most organised person into a frazzle, Emer is ready for anything that comes her way.

‘Its a challenge but I’m well used to challenges,’ said the Ashford native. ‘Despite being visually impaired, I have gone skiing and have a degree in Modern English and History from Trinity.’

Emer, who has been a member of Toastmasters for seven years, initially put herself forward for another role on the committee. However, she was thrilled when her fellow members suggested that she take up the reins as president.

‘It was a very nice feeling to be honest. I felt really good because it showed that the committee had faith in me,’ she said.

Following a survey of the members to see what changes they would like to be made, Emer made some plans for the year ahead including increasing the number of speeches people make and the incorporation of a questions and answers corner.

‘The questions corner will give new members a chance to ask anything they like about Toastmasters. It gives them an opportunity to learn what it is all about,’ she said.

Emer, who is completely blind, said that public speaking was something that once terrified her. Since joining the club in 2009, Emer said her confidence has greatly increased.

‘Toastmasters has done an awful lot for me and can do so much for so many people,’ she said. ‘When you are visually impaired, your spatial awareness is affected. If you get up to make a speech, you aren’t sure where the audience is, whether your movements or gestures are ok, whether you are doing anything wrong or whether you are facing the audience. The thing about Toastmasters is, when you are finished your speech, somebody evaluates it. People will offer you constructive criticism.’

‘It’s marvellous and has helped me enormously. I’m now much more confident standing in front of people. I’ve done ten speeches so far and an advanced manual.’

Though she reads braille,’ Emer tries not to use it when making her speeches.

‘If you don’t use notes, then you have a fluidity when you are speaking,’ she said.

She does bring one thing with her when making her speeches however: her guide dog Trudy.

‘I always have Trudy there beside me. She’s really well-behaved,’ she said.

With the Wexford Toastmasters Open Night coming up in Greenacres this Thursday night, Emer is looking forward to meeting potential members. She urges anyone with an interest to come along and discover what the group has to offer.

‘I found it all so nervewracking at first. For me, it was mainly because I didn’t know where the audience was. But you find ways around these worries,’ she said. ‘If I can do that, anyone can!’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/clonard-native-emer-mulhall-makes-a-toast-to-the-year-ahead-as-wexford-toastmasters-president-35137560.html)

Horeswood native Sarah Cleary brings a taste of Rocky Horror back home – Gorey Guardian, October 15 2016

Fishnets, corsets, streamers and party hats are all part of a day’s work for Horeswood native Sarah Cleary and the aim of her game is to bring people into her wacky world.

As the organiser of the country’s many Rocky Horror Picture Show productions, Sarah’s current day job is a far cry from office work or a teaching stint but every bit as hectic. With the countdown to Halloween underway, preparations are in full swing for this year’s shadow cast productions.

First stop will be Wexford Quay, where the Spiegeltent is set to come alive with the weird and wonderful world of the Rocky Horror Picture Show this Friday. With only days to go, Sarah is hoping that the Wexford audience is as prepared as she is.

‘The shows combine a film screening with live acting but it’s not just a show for people to sit and watch. We want complete audience participation. We want the people getting up on their feet and using the props we supply and we encourage them to throw rice, toast and streamers at the stage,’ explained Sarah.

‘There are absolutely no holds barred when it comes to Rocky Horror. Fancy dress is more than encouraged and everything and anything is welcome. We encourage people to take on new personas so that they can get whipped up in the atmosphere.’

‘It’s the most crazy surreal experience you can imagine to watch an entire audience take on various characters.’

This year marks the third time that Rocky Horror has rolled into Wexford and owing to previous success, Sarah is looking forward to bringing the madness back home.

‘I have to say that the first time we put it on in Wexford, I was apprehensive doing it in my hometown. I am a very proud Wexford woman and didn’t want to let the side down!’ she said. ‘I was blown away with how involved people got and how willing they were to participate in the show. I have to applaud the people of Wexford for that. Hopefully it is the same this year.’

Sarah’s rise to Rocky Horror revelry began eleven years ago, when she approached the Sugar Club in Dublin with the idea of putting on the Rocky Horror Picture Show. An avid fan of the film, she longed to recreate the events once held by the Classic Cinema in Harold’s Cross before it closed down.

‘I have always loved the film and decided Dublin needed it back again,’ she explained. ‘I put it on to test the waters but I never planned for it to be so successful. The first night, we sold out. Eleven years later, I am performing three or four shows around the country.’

Over the years, Sarah has discovered just how many Rocky Horror fans are in the country and the lengths that they will go to get involved in one of the live productions. What is it that makes the showings of cult classic such a hit?

‘I think one of the reasons is that it’s a release valve. Whether you are a doctor, a lawyer or a journalist, everyone needs to let off steam. Rocky Horror is a very safe way of doing so,’ explained Sarah. ‘It is similar to burlesque and other such communities that sometimes people are reluctant to get involved in because they feel they are exclusive. Rocky Horror, on the other hand, is every man’s dress up.’

‘I think ultimately we are creatures that want to seek out fun and Rocky Horror is the epitome of letting your hair down and enjoying yourself.’

While others are letting their hair down, Sarah will be curling hers up as she takes on the persona of Janet for the production. She describes taking on the character as a fun but strange experience.

‘I am quite tall with long blonde hair but for the show, I have it curled up to be like Janet so people never make the connection between us when they meet me later on. Also in real life, I tend to wear clothes,’ she laughed. ‘On the stage I am essentially running around in my underwear but I have gotten used to it. All shapes and sizes are celebrated in the show; it isn’t an environment where you need to be perfect.’

When the clothes are back on and the show is all over, Sarah has plenty of other things to keep her busy. In the real world, she is otherwise known as Dr Sarah Cleary, having gained her PHD in Controversial Horror and Children’s Censorship. She now lectures part-time in Trinity specialising in Gothic Studies and English Literature. Along with working in the academic environment, she also runs her own events including the Horror Expo which will be held in Freemason’s Grand Lodge in Dublin in the coming weeks.

But as night falls this Friday night, all responsibilities will be parked aside as Sarah makes her transformation, which is guaranteed to take a lot more preparation than a night in the Stores.

‘As Dolly Parton once said, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap,’ she laughed.

(First published in the Gorey Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/out-about/horeswood-native-sarah-cleary-brings-a-taste-rocky-horror-back-home-35119888.htmlhttp://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/out-about/horeswood-native-sarah-cleary-brings-a-taste-rocky-horror-back-home-35119888.html)

Wexford Forest School initiative aims to bring learning to the great outdoors – New Ross Standard, October 15 2016

Bringing learning to the great outdoors is the aim of the new Wexford Forest School initiative which planted its roots in the Irish National Heritage Park recently.

The first forest school in the county to be funded by a local authority, it will welcome children from schools across Wexford to learn about protecting the environment, bushcraft, building shelter and identifying nature. It came together through the collaboration between Outdoor Park Manager Chris Hayes, Ciara Hinksman of Earth Force Education and local Forest Rangers Orla Gallagher and Shane Furlong.

‘There is a phrase that has been coined by Richard Louv called “nature deficit disorder” that is used to describe the negative consequences that occur when children don’t spend enough time outdoors. Parents and families are so busy with school, homework and dinners to be made so it can be challenging for them to get the kids out in the evening,’ explained Orla. ‘We are looking at this as a way of getting children to come and engage with nature and develop a passion for the outdoors. Kids are the future stewards of the environment. If they don’t learn how to care for it and appreciate it, who will?’

Children from Crossabeg National School are the first to dive into the project and will visit the park each Thursday over the next seven weeks. Their first visit to the site was met with great enthusiasm from not only the children, but the teachers themselves.

‘The kids had really positive feedback about the day and did everything with great enthusiasm. Even the third class teacher and principal Eamonn Codd were getting involved,’ said Orla.

The forest school leaders try to encourage children to engage with nature in a fun way through the medium of stories and songs. They also teach them about wildlife tracking, pointing out various species of plants and animals as they explore the site.

‘We teach in a way that is really accessible to kids,’ said Orla. ‘A lot of the time, they don’t even realise the amount that they are taking in.’

The children will also be given the chance to channel their inner Bear Grylls as bushcraft and survival skills form a big part of Forest School. Making and using tools and building fires are some of the areas that they delve in to and although participants are young, the rangers ensure that safety is the top priority.

‘We have about 22 students at the moment and there are at least three adults there at any one time,’ explained Orla. ‘A big part of what we do in the fire skill section is help them to develop their own risk assessment abilities. We teach them that fire is really beneficial as it keeps us warm and we can cook with it but also instil the risks in them such as the possibility of getting burned. These lessons will stand to children as they get older.’

Forest School programmes can run throughout the year, in all weathers, except for high winds.

The founders of Wexford Forest School all have one shared aim: to establish a regional hub for forest schools over time. However, they understand that it will take time for the initiative to grow and flourish. The current phase of Wexford Forest School is a pilot scheme with Crossabeg National School. Wexford County Council have provided funding of approximately €2,700 under Local Agenda 21 Environmental Partnership Fund for this first seven weeks. Following this, Orla said that they hope to spread interest to schools across the county.

‘The first bit of funding is for seven weeks but hopefully we might get some more next year all going well,’ said Orla. ‘Schools that are also interested in getting involved can also provide some funding themselves.’

(First published in the New Ross Standard newspaper: print edition. Also available online at http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/news/wexford-forest-school-initiative-aims-to-bring-learning-to-the-great-outdoors-35119379.html)