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)

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)

Taking Centre Stage – Bray People, September 10 2016

In part one of this special report, Amy Lewis looks at Wicklow’s role in the film industry – who works in it, what it means for the garden County and what can be done to improve it.

Wicklow has served as the backdrop for hundreds of big-name films and TV series and the county has certainly reaped the rewards.

It is estimated that the film industry is worth €70m to the Wicklow economy. However, Wicklow Film Commissioner Vibeke Delahunt reckons that the reality is much higher.

‘Unfortunately there is a lack of data available. We have heard very conservatively that it could be worth about €70m every year but I think it is much more,’ she explained. ‘The industry has a huge ripple effect across the county and its services.’

Following the construction of Ardmore Studios in 1958, more international and homegrown producers began to flock to the county. Recognising the county’s potential in the world of film, Wicklow County Council looked to our neighbours in the states for ideas on to harness it and allow it to flourish. The result was the establishment of the Wicklow Film Commission in 1992 – the first of its kind in the country.

‘Because Wicklow was unique in Ireland with Ardmore, and now also with Ashford, it was felt by the county manager at the time that setting one up would be good for economic development and promoting Wicklow.’

The Wicklow Film Commission’s roles include promoting the county as a film location, liaising with filmmakers and providing them with various services and facilities.

‘We have had up years as well as down years such as in the 1990s and even after 2000. But in the last five or six years, production based here has gone up,’ said Vibeke, who added the opening of Ashford Studios and additional Film Factory at Ardmore means that production is going up all of the time.

Wicklow’s long showreel of films includes ‘Braveheart’, ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Excalibar’, ‘The Guard’, ‘Dancing at Lunasa’ and ‘Breakfast on Pluto’, while TV shows ‘The Tudors’, ‘Penny Dreadful’, ‘Ripper Street’, ‘Mooneboy’ and ‘Raw’ have also used Wicklow as their stage. There are a number of reasons why film and TV producers flock from across the globe to Ireland’s Garden County.

‘Rich tax incentives here have a lot to do with foreign productions filming here,’ she explained. ‘They also need to work out of a studio and we have the main two in the country here. Wicklow also has well-trained, experienced and talented crew, along with a wide range of locations that can double up for other places in Europe. All of these elements come together and that is recognised internationally.’

It’s a case of a lot done, a lot more to do. The Wicklow Film Commission is currently working at addressing any skills gaps by consulting with people in the industry. A recent introductory course to ‘hairdressing on a film set’ marked the beginning of this. It saw twelve trained hairdressers get to grips with working on a film set under the instruction of Vikings hairdresser Dee Corcoran.

Developing Wicklow County Campus at Clermount by expanding the number of film-related courses on offer is the next step in addressing these skills shortages.

‘We are looking at different sectors at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have been told by people in the industry that we need more trained people in props, model-making, prosthetics and electricians for example.’

‘There’s also a lot of work we could do for schools to incorporate film into the school curriculum.’

Another welcome move is the application for expansion at Ashford Studios.

‘We are very excited about Joe looking to expand and we support him in his work. It’s great to have a local man looking to develop infrastructure which we badly need. They are turning away work because they don’t have the space,’ she said.

‘There are a lot of interesting projects at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have ‘Into the Badlands’ and ‘I Killed Giants’ filming at the moment.’

(First published in the Bray People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/braypeople/news/taking-centre-stage-35026806.html)

Wicklow residents recall the day a film crew met their fate – Wicklow People, September 17 2016

A moment of movie magic turned to disaster in August 1970 when four people were killed in a plane crash during the filming of World War I film ‘Zeppelin’ off Wicklow Head.

During a scene involving a plane and an Alouette II camera helicopter, the two aircraft collided, resulting in the loss of the lives of the director, camera man and two pilots.

Vincent O’Reilly, who was working in a factory on the waterfront, was the first to ring the emergency services.

‘There weren’t many phones on the go in the 1970s but I had the phone beside me in work and when I saw it happen, I gave the emergency services a call,’ he said. ‘As far as I am aware, I was the first one to do so.’

The Irish Air Corp pilot Jim Liddy of the SE.5A and all on board the Alouette were killed, including pilot Gilbert ‘Gilly’ Chomat, renowned cameraman Skeets Kelly and director Burch Williams.

Two of the main actors in the film were Michael York and Elke Sommer but neither were involved in the accident.

Vincent’s brother Stan also recalls the catastrophe.

‘I remember the shock and the horror,’ he said. ‘People down there were outside watching the filming for the day and they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.’

Tommy Dover of the Wicklow RNLI also has vivid memories of the crash, despite being very young at the time.

‘We were kids when it happened. There were about seven or eight planes and a helicopter with the crew so we went to the castle to watch the filming,’ he said. ‘I just remember the bang. It was my first time experiencing fear. Everyone started shouting to get the lifeboat.’

It is understood that the same aircraft had been used only several weeks previously during the filming of ‘The Blue Max’ and everything had run smoothly. Witnesses of the Zeppelin disaster believe that the two aircraft may have accidentally veered too close to one another.

Despite the accident, the film was completed and later released in 1971 under the director Etienne Perier.

(First published in the Wicklow People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/wicklowpeople/news/wicklow-residents-recall-the-day-a-film-crew-met-their-fate-35046061.html)

House of storytelling ignites the imagination – Gorey Guardian, August 20 2016

By the light of oil lamps, crowds have been enjoying the unique atmosphere of Bygone Days Storytelling House for 16 years. Now a leaky roof poses a threat to the famous thatched cottage enterprise, writes Amy Lewis.

Untold tales, thoughtful rhymes and jovial melodies have been shared before the blazing fire at the Bygone Days Storytelling House for 16 years and with a bit of luck and generosity, locals are hoping that its story can continue. Nestled in the village of Oulart, the thatched cottage has been at the heart of the community for longer than any of its current residents can remember.

Built in the 1700s by the road on which horses and coaches once made the slow journey to Dublin, it served as a family home until the 1990s when it was bought by local man Jim Mythen. However, it was not until 2000 that local residents decided to thatch and refurbish the cottage and make it the storytelling hub that it is today.

Each month since then, crowds of 50 to 60 people duck under the half door of the cottage and huddle into the low-lit room in the centre of the cottage.

Visitors are immediately met by a sense of warmth, not only due to the blazing fire that heats the old-world room, but because of the welcoming atmosphere that the place exudes. This is a place where people can share their stories, sing a tune or just simply, sit and listen.

The festivities of the evenings have long been presided over by local man John Dempsey – who has served as Fear an Tí since the very beginning – along with his wife Eileen. Together with owner Jim and members of a committee of locals, the pair have kept the fire burning in the storytelling house for 16 years.

‘We were involved with the local panto for years and when the house was vacant, we decided to try a storytelling night. The first one was on 20 June, 2000, and the crowds have been growing since then,’ explained Eileen.

‘Since then, we have run it on the first Monday of every month. There have only been four nights that we missed due to things such as bereavements and snow.’

Although the house has no electricity or running water, the group manage to cater for huge crowds regularly with the help of old oil lamps converted with bulbs and a a power source brought in from Jim Mythen’s home.

The huge old-style open fire is also a source of light in itself, and with its crane and fanners, it is as much an attraction as the festivities.

The monthly sessions aren’t advertised but according to Eileen, the audience continues to grow.

Since it was established, the house has welcomed storytellers, musicians and visitors from across the globe, including Cork-born storyteller Jack Lynch and various other well-known voices from destinations as far away as Australia.

Under the dim lighting of converted oil lamps, they have ignited the imaginations of many with tales of love, loss and everything in between.

However, the house is not only a place for seasoned performers to find a platform.

‘Our motto is leave your feeling on the gate post coming in,’ said Eileen.

‘There is a fantastic atmosphere here. It is a place where everyone is able to relax and people just seem to sit and talk to one another. People don’t have to perform. There is no pressure put on anyone.’

Along with sharing stories, everyone who visits the cottage also is offered the chance to share some homemade food and refreshments. It always serves as welcome fuel for the guests, particularly the performers, who often keep the stories and music going well into the early hours of the morning.

At certain times of the year, Eileen and co also dish up some local specialities, such as bacon and cabbage in June and colcannon in November. January always proves to be a big favourite as 11,000 locally-caught herring are cooked up for the masses, while at Christmas, each and every guest goes home with a present.

In a world that is governed by the internet and modern technologies, Bygone Days is a place where old traditions remain strong. However, these traditions could soon become a distant memory. The future of Bygone Days Storytelling House has become precarious due to a leak in the roof and if it is not fixed soon, the story of Oulart’s famous thatched cottage could come to a sad end.

‘The leak is really bad. Last December we had rain coming in on the people sitting there. We have covered it with a sheet but it needs to be fixed. We can’t have water pouring in here on people,’ said Eileen.

‘We are looking into getting funding but we don’t know if we will receive it.’

In an effort to save their local haunt, members of the committee will soon host a fundraiser night in the Riverside House Hotel to brew up some much-needed funds.

It will be the first of many such evenings and the first step towards raising the €22,000 that will be needed to provide a new roof.

Performers from days gone by will gather in the hotel on September 25 to share a little piece of the Bygone’s magic with the public. A night of music, stories and dancing will ensue, with plenty of craic and nostalgia sprinkled in with it.

Tickets will soon be on sale from the hotel and from members of the Bygone Days Storytelling House committee for €10 each. Eileen is calling on people from across the county to offer their support so that the cottage can remain standing.

‘The building itself is very historical, having been there since before 1798. It would be a shame to see it go as we have already lost so many similar places around the country,’ said Eileen.

‘It would be a big loss to the many people who come here if it couldn’t continue. It serves as an outlet for many people, particularly those who don’t go to the pub as it is a place that they can go to meet people and share their stories.’

Eileen and co are hoping to attract a large crowd to their fundraiser in September and hope that their involvement in an episode of Epic Days on RTE at the weekend will have stirred up some more interest.

‘Without our nights here the house would have been long gone. We have managed to keep it up and alive and if we manage to re-thatch the roof, we hope to enjoy more years of laughter, music, song, stories and craic for possibly another 16 years,’ said Eileen.

(First published in the Gorey Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/localnotes/house-of-storytelling-ignites-the-imagination-34969293.html)

Wexford’s free community art class is proving as successful in reality as it is on paper – Wexford People, April 30 2016

Tucked away in Friary Hall off School Street sits the Open Gate Art Studio – a place where experienced and novice artists alike gather three times a week for some creativity and company.

 

It is a place where anybody can become an exhibiting artist, regardless of wealth, experience or skills.

The studio was established a year and a half ago by Dimitri Avtin, a professional artist who is originally from Uzbekistan. Along with local artist Kevin Ryan and former carpenter Tony Bergin, he now facilitates free painting and drawing sessions for members of the public. Local residents Deirdre and Edward Barker also help to oversee the classes.

Although the studio itself is hidden away, the efforts of those involved do not go unnoticed. Each participant is given the chance to put their work on display in their own exhibition which will run for a two week period.

‘Everyone gets the opportunity to put their art up for the very first time,’ explained Kilmore resident Tony Bergin, who facilitates one class a week. ‘This is to show people that the studio is a nice and a safe place that is not about judgement. I have no background in art at all but through the classes and exhibitions, we aim to prove to people that creativity can be brought out from within you.’

Tony’s own work and teaching style are inspired by the work of American artist Jackson Pollock, who incorporates a drip style into all of his paintings. Tony’s personal exhibition was on display in recent weeks and attracted plenty of attention from visitors and members of the classes.

However for Tony and his fellow facilitators, the studio is about more than sharing art and drawing attention from the public.

‘This was set up as a community facility that Wexford didn’t really have. We wanted to show people that there’s a place where they can come to meet new people and talk over a cup of tea,’ he said. ‘Just like with a book club, we wanted it to be a place where people come and talk and they share. And it’s definitely becoming what it’s meant to be: a community-based friendship centre.’

According to Tony, the classes are growing ‘at a fantastic rate’, with about 15 people in each class. He feels that the casual nature of the classes is what has helped to make it such a success.

‘With other classes, people are sometimes afraid of signing up as they can be expensive and if they don’t enjoy it, their money is gone. With us, you put in a small donation of a few euro to help pay for light, heating and materials,’ he explained. ‘Anyone can join. There are no rules.’

Owing to the positive response that the Open Gate Art Studio has received, Tony now hopes to use his experience as a carpenter to establish a men’s group in the area.

‘It is something that has been in my heart for a while and I am just getting the wheels in motion now. I was trained as a carpenter and so, have the skills to do things around the house,’ he said. ‘I have many friends who say I am fortunate to be able to do these things. I am fortunate. Some men aren’t able to change plugs and hang pictures. With this new group, I intend to incorporate art and home work.’

Through the group, Tony hopes to expand on what has been achieved by the studio and offer men a place where they can come together to chat and learn.

‘I hope to provide a caring safe place for men who are unaware of a facility that they can have access to should they want an ear to listen to them,’ he said.

In the meantime, Tony, Kevin and Dimitri will continue to run classes in Friary Hall and are inviting anyone with an interest in art or socialising to come along.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/lifestyle/wexfords-free-community-art-class-is-proving-as-successful-in-reality-as-it-is-on-paper-34663377.html)