Our mention in the Financial Times’ article with Jessie Buckley

We are yet again humbled by all the love and care received from our ambassador, the unique Jessie Buckley! In her latest interview with the Financial Times, Jessie mentioned our organization and what we mean to her: ‘For me, it’s another family. Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever struggles you have, how little you have in your pocket, it doesn’t matter, it’s a door that is always open to help and to nurture.’

Our director, Grainne Jennings, is also cited in the article, mentioning the incredible help Jessie Buckley has given us in fundraising for the refurbishing of our main building that recently went on fire. And while Jessie’s effort in helping us financially has been invaluable, Grainne acknowledges that ‘The level of humanity that she brings to the table and the empathy. She has a wonderful capacity to tune into the unsaid.’ Follow this link to read in full this exciting, in-depth interview With Jessie Buckley.

And if you resonate with our cause, we invite you to donate and help us fully build the center again. You can do so following this link.


Project-Based Learning Experience: Interviewing Jessie Buckley

As part of our Project Based Learning programme, we have initiated a series of ‘In Conversation with…’ podcasts that give our participants the opportunity to interview prominent public figures. This project was created to enable participants to apply and develop the communication skills they learn in workshops conducted by journalist Aura McMenamin.

On the 4th of May we had the opportunity to have a conversation with Hollywood star Jessie Buckley which was conducted by one of our participants. On our website, you will find a brief interview in which our participant shares his thoughts on communication, the project-based learning approach, and on interviewing Jessie Buckley!

I: Hi, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

P: I’m 35 years of age, I have three kids, who are 19, 12 and 7-months. I’m from Ballyfermot, I lived there all my life. As a person I would be friendly and smiley, I would talk to anybody and I am open minded.

I: I would also say that you are a very humorous person and always make people laugh

P: Well you can tell a lot from laughing. If someone goes through a serious situation, you can kind of laugh at it but you’re also recognizing it as one of them things. You can’t take life too seriously, but it has to be done in the right manner and at an appropriate time.

I: What do you think about communication?

P: Communication is extremely important. People think differently, people take up conversations or different situations probably more seriously than other people. You need to know how to communicate. If you go around and you don’t know how to communicate, it can affect your family; you might come out roaring and it pushes you to anger. With me, I didn’t really communicate as a teenager, and I’ve seen the effects of that and in a lot of friends too, who ended up committing suicide. And I think it comes down to not talking. Suicide happens especially in the area where I come from. I suppose whatever life they are living they can’t really communicate and they are probably disconnected. With me, I head to learn my feelings again. I couldn’t pinpoint what I was that I was feeling and so anger kind of fuelled me. I was very fearful but couldn’t show it so I was angry.

I: Do you think communication skills can be learned?

P: It is never too late to learn it. I don’t know where I lost my communication, in what part, or stage or life but I lost it somewhere along the line. But yes, you can pick it up bit by bit, probably taking me a while but you are getting there.

I: Can you give us an example where you learned these communication skills?

P: When I attended my communication workshops with Aura, before interviewing Jessie, I don’t think I could have done it as confidently. When you do stuff, it builds up your confidence.

I: So do you link communication with confidence?

P: Definitely. See people I would talk to, if I was in a job situation and was talking to a manager I would feel like a little child. But if you see me talking to someone out there I’d put up a show. Because you’re not used to talking to someone who is well educated, you feel less, you’re looking at your toes and you are shy.

I: What did you learn in your communication workshops with Aura?

P: I found the workshop with Aura very interesting. I learned how to turn a conversation around. How to get a conversation to go the way you want it to go, without being blunt about it. Which is a good skill to have in your daily life.

I: How was interviewing Jessie Buckley?

P: I was very nervous. I had my questions written down but I had to get rid of the sheets and I was doing it freely. When you talk to someone like that you think they are in Hollywood but really, they are just the same as you. Everybody is the same. And when you get outside your area you think you are not capable and you don’t fit in so its nice to talk with someone like that.

I: What did you enjoy the most about it?

P: I really enjoyed just talking to her in general and then it was that pushing yourself over that barrier of doing this kind of thing. And when you’ve done it you can give yourself praise and get praise from others; I think that’s a big thing too. So, I think pushing little barriers like that allows you do other things.

I: How did you find this learning experience (project-based learning) in comparison to traditional ways of learning?

P: I do think you have to put learning in practice. You can read a book all day long – I mean I can read a book all day about going to space but it doesn’t mean I can go to space. You can research stuff all day but doing it is the way to learn. And the confidence too, you are applying it. You are not going to be thinking it about doing it, you would have had it done.

I: Where do you see yourself in the future?

P: For me to be doing something it has to have a meaning. I could see myself working in my community. I can see myself being a helpful person, I like helping people and I seem to have connection with people especially in my area, who struggle with mental health.

I: Thank you so much, I am sure that is something that will happen.


Working with the Matt Talbot Community Trust: Aura McMenamin

I was honoured to hold Interview Skills workshops for members of the Matt Talbot Community Center. As a former journalist, speaking to people from all walks of life was an integral part of the job, and I was happy to share my tips and guidelines for preparing and conducting an interview. For one of the first talks in March, Irish actress Jessie Buckley was invited to speak. I hosted the first workshop with four participants. In April, I had a workshop with another participant who would be interviewing Senator Lynn Ruane.

They were very confident, enthusiastic and inquisitive when taking on each exercise and task. I got them to think of questions they would ask any person, alive or living, of their choosing. Later, I got them to interview each other. Lastly, their homework was to research their speaker and come up with questions by themselves or add questions from their peers before we met for part two of the workshop.

During both workshops, they all asked probing and original questions. They took on the feedback really well. A common thing I heard was, “I’m doing something out of my comfort zone.” Interviewing someone, much less publicly on video, is nerve-wracking, but they all did a great job. They’re all strong speakers, with their own stories to tell, their own unique perspectives and the ability to relate to others.



One real-life ‘good nun’ deserves to be remembered

The ‘cruel nun’ stereotype has become a stock figure in contemporary narratives and a real stinker appears in Marie Hargreaves’ recently published memoir The Convent.

This is one Sister Isobel O’Brien, who beat young children with wooden coat hangers, pulled their hair, pinched them viciously and, in a special humiliation, abolished their Christian names, telling them “you have no family”.

Marie Hargreaves was born in Oldham, Lancashire, to an Irish mother who went on to have 10 children. Her mother, though loving, was mentally unstable, and Marie and her brother were committed to an orphanage at Our Lady’s Convent at Billinge, in Merseyside. Marie was only six, and was subjected to a reign of terror by Sister Isobel.

Irish Times article – Coverage of the fire damage to the Matt Talbot Community Trust centre in Ballyfermot

A day after the Matt Talbot Community Trust’s IT system and website crashed, director Gráinne Jennings is getting the place back up and running.

Upstairs in the Ballyfermot centre’s makeshift office, she is surrounded by a jumble of hard drives, folders and mounds of paper that have yet to find a permanent home. The technology glitch is the latest in a series of setbacks for the trust, which runs training and support programmes for people who have found themselves outside of the education system.

Late last year, the centre’s back building was set ablaze – the origin of the fire is unknown – gutting the kitchen, workshop and computer space.

“We are really restricted in what we can offer at the moment,” says Jennings, who must now hotdesk around the building. “The fire was devastating, as we have just the one building to work in now.”

The charred remains of the building have been untouched since the incident, but the trust is pinning its hopes on an upcoming fundraiser, featuring singer and star of the movie Wild Rose and the acclaimed TV drama Chernobyl, Jessie Buckley. Buckley has been a “silent supporter” of the trust for many years, says Jennings.

“When she heard about the fire she decided she would step up to do all she could to help. We can’t thank her enough,” Jennings says.

Despite the chaotic circumstances, the centre exudes the warmth of a friendly relative’s home. Programme participants, some of whom are former drug addicts or ex-offenders, pause what they are doing to smile and say hello, while cups of tea are offered with the persistence of a doting grandmother.

Food has a therapeutic purpose at the centre, says Jennings. Before it was burned out, the kitchen used to welcome former participants and community members who would wander in unannounced to eat with those currently on the programme.

The bunker-like building in the west Dublin suburb was “never fit for purpose anyway”, says Jennings. The fire, while financially devastating, allows them to “reimagine what’s on offer here”, she adds.

“All of a sudden we can start to dream in a different way in terms of how the centre can work. It really is a great opportunity for us to reorganise the space to deliver the programme in a complimentary way.”

Positivity and persistence against all odds are key principles the centre teaches its participants, says Jennings. A reimagining of the space could bring about Jennings’s dream of an “edible community”, which would allow participants and community members to bond over the food they grow together.

“It will give the people coming to us a wider purpose and it will also give the community a better understanding of the people we work with.”

Cooking is one of the “soft skills” participants learn as part of the centre’s Future Options programme.

“We would have guys coming to us who have been in prison for 18 years. This is their first time out of the prison system, so these skills are fundamental.”

The programme aims to build confidence in participants, allowing them to explore different interests and routes into mainstream life. As well as cooking, those enrolled take workplace tours and placements, while also identifying personal barriers to employment or further education.

Addicted to drugs since he was a teenager, former programme participant John Farrell believes the Matt Talbot centre is far superior to any of the other community programmes he went through.

“At any other project, they care about you while you’re there but you’re a number. The more numbers they have the larger piece of pie they get for funding,” he says. “Here they let me do me and slowly their actions broke it down for me. They actually cared about me, and that made a massive difference,” he adds.

Farrell now gives talks about addiction recovery at homeless hostels and in drug programmes. After completing a start your own business course, he has also set up a small enterprise, carving family crests and Celtic scenes into copper in a small office at the centre. He sells his engravings on Facebook and through word of mouth. He also teaches copperwork to the programme’s participants.

“Here they gave me the opportunities to do work I was passionate about. If I told Gráinne I wanted to be an astronaut or a six-foot-tall model, she would never refuse me. If she sees you are willing to work for it she will bend over backwards for you,” he says.

“That is what I love about here. The belief they have in people no matter how broken they are. And with the right support and help, they can be fixed and go on to help others,” Farrell adds.

The trust is asking the public to help them rebuild the centre by buying tickets to see Jessie Buckley and others perform at Vicar Street, Dublin on Wednesday, September 25th. Tickets €35 through Ticketmaster.