Women on a Mission

The newly formed Déise Women’s Shed – Mna na Déise Dungarvan has already proved to be a resounding success. Members recently visited the Portlaw Women’s Group and are now focused on seeking a home to call their own.

WHILE the concept of a Men’s Shed is already very well established, the idea of a Women’s Shed is a concept that’s less well known.However, a group of women in Dungarvan, who are currently enjoying phenomenal success, are seeking to change this. Around three years ago, after some members visited the hugely successful Dungarvan Men’s Shed, the idea of developing a similar amenity for women in the town began to form.Subsequently, a group of like-minded women came together and established Déise Women’s Shed – Mna na Déise Dungarvan. There are currently 180 members which makes them the biggest such group in the entire country.

Committee members of Déise Women’s Shed - Mna na Déise Dungarvan: Eleanor Sandford (Crafts and Entertainment), Mary Kelly (PRO), Kathleen Stone (Portlaw Women’s Group), Denise Flynn (Secretary), Kathleen Wallace (Assistant Treasurer) and Yvonne Sheehan (Chairperson).

Committee members of Déise Women’s Shed - Mna na Déise Dungarvan: Eleanor Sandford (Crafts and Entertainment), Mary Kelly (PRO), Kathleen Stone (Portlaw Women’s Group), Denise Flynn (Secretary), Kathleen Wallace (Assistant Treasurer) and Yvonne Sheehan (Chairperson).

In fact, there are only around four other similar groups nationwide which means Mna na Déise Dungarvan truly are trailblazers. “When we launched in September last year, we thought it would be marvellous if we had 30 to 40 women,” said PRO Mary Kelly.“We had 99 registering on the first night. It was totally overwhelming.” They say the level of interest shown clearly indicates that there was a need for such a group in the town. Membership numbers are increasing every week and the group strives to accommodate everyone who wants to join.

The committee members say the Shed has many benefits in terms of tackling social isolation in Dungarvan and West Waterford.They point out that some women may have had a huge change in their circumstances as a result of the death of a partner or friend for example.Meanwhile, others may be adjusting to a new life if their children have ‘flown the nest’. “We realised the need was huge for women’s mental health in Dungarvan and the surrounding area, but we never realised just how huge until the Shed actually opened,” said Mary. They encourage women to drop in for a cuppa and a chat and, similarly to the Men’s Sheds movement, the members can pick and choose the activities they’d like to engage in.
So far, they have arranged a variety of activities including yoga and make up demonstrations.
Members have participated in the Dublin Women’s Mini Marathon and are also kept busy through their affiliation with The Blankets of Hope Cork initiative which sees blankets being knitted for cancer sufferers about to undergo chemotherapy.The women of Mna na Déise Dungarvan also recently donated blankets to the Oncology and Pediatric wards at University Hospital Waterford (UHW).
“There’s always something going on and there’s something for everyone,” says Mary.
“We take on board whatever the ladies say. We’ll discuss every suggestion and, if we can do it, we’ll do it.”

The committee members have observed many benefits in terms of the personal development and confidence of other members. Many friendships are being formed among people who might have previously passed each other on the street but didn’t really know each other. In addition to the activities organised by the Shed, many members organise additional get-togethers among themselves such as meeting for lunch or a trip to the cinema. However, if Mna na Déise Dungarvan had their own premises they say it would present more opportunities as they could open in the nighttime.

Michael Sullivan pictured with ladies from Déise Women’s Shed - Mna na Déise Dungarvan and Portlaw Women’s Group at Clodiagh House.

Michael Sullivan pictured with ladies from Déise Women’s Shed - Mna na Déise Dungarvan and Portlaw Women’s Group at Clodiagh House.

A New Home
They would love to have someplace to call their own as they feel they are currently very restricted in terms of growth.Meetings are currently being held in Lawlor’s Hotel where they pay for the use of space for two hours a week. “If we had our own premises, we could grow as a group,” says Secretary Denise Flynn. Portlaw Women’s Group hosted Mna na Déise Dungarvan at a gathering at Clodiagh House recently to socialise and learn more about the group which exists in The Tannery Town. A huge contingent arrived and all were treated to an afternoon of great entertainment, featuring music from local Portlaw man Michael Sullivan from George’s Street. The Dungarvan women said they were delighted to visit Clodiagh House and engage with members of the Portlaw Women’s Group which currently has approximately 16 members and has been established for around five years.“We were amazed when we came here and saw their premises. They went to great effort and are doing great work,” said Chairperson Yvonne Sheehan.
Kathleen Stone of the Portlaw Women’s Group hopes the women found the day beneficial and that they picked up some tips and advice.

She also hopes that someone can come on board in Dungarvan to provide them with a suitable base.
“The ladies from Dungarvan were very excited,” explained Kathleen.“They can’t get over the fact that we have this building rent free with no bills. We’re very lucky and we appreciate it. We’d have nowhere to go if we didn’t have this hub.” Kathleen describes Clodiagh House as a “haven” – not just for the Portlaw Women’s Group but for all of Portlaw. “People have a place to come together and the kettle is always on for anyone who calls,” she says.

Community Education
Aine Whelan, Community Education Facilitator with Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board (WWETB), says Clodiagh House is a very good example of agencies working together. She explained that the Portlaw Women’s Group and Mná na Déise Dungarvan are two of approximately 10 women’s groups which are supported by the Community Education Programme in County Waterford. The Community Education Programme is funded by the WWETB through SOLAS and supports community groups to access formal and non-formal education in their communities.The gathering in Portlaw on Thursday 11th July was part of a WWETB initiative in conjunction with Waterford Women’s Centre, to build the capacity of women’s groups in County Waterford through networking and leadership training.

“Participating on a Community Education Programme can lead to many possibilities including skills development, improved health and wellbeing, confidence building, greater community involvement and progression to further education and employment,” says Aine. We want to promote what community education is about and its value to society. Since the recession, a lot of emphasis has been placed on employment and getting people back to work but we believe it’s just as important to keep people active within their communities and to have progressive communities.” She added: “Often, a certificate is seen as the only measure of success but we focus on non-formal education.” Aine says participation in such programmes gives people “a whole new lease of life and confidence”.She has particularly noticed a hugely positive impact on Portlaw where she says Clodiagh House has built on “the sense of community and togetherness”. “The benefits are huge, not only for the women themselves but for their families and the wider community. You can see the vibrancy,” she said.“The women support each other and it gives them a focus. It gets people involved, out of the house and also out of the doctor’s surgery.”

It’s hoped that a leadership programme can be offered to women soon and Aine hopes that women from all of the groups which they support will avail of this opportunity. “The groups can become self-sustaining,” she says. “All you need is one or two strong women with the right skills.” They have applied for extra funding this year to support women’s groups in County Waterford and are also trying to assist Mná na Déise Dungarvan in finding a suitable home.Aine would love to see more women’s groups becoming established and says the model is very “cost effective”.

A Huge Asset
Carmel Connolly, Development Worker with St Brigid’s Resource Centre at Clodiagh House, says having a venue such as Clodiagh House is a huge asset for Portlaw.“The lack of a venue often becomes a barrier when community groups are setting up,” she said. St Brigid’s Family and Community Centre, in conjunction with Tusla, extended its outreach services to the county when it developed a Resource Hub in Portlaw which has proved to be very successful.Tusla provide the building while the funding for activities which take place is provided through sources including the WWETB and SICAP (Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme). “It means a hub can exist which offers multiple supports rather than one specific service,” explained Carmel. The Portlaw Women’s Group is one of a number of different services including unemployment support, education training programmes and a horticulture training programme. The impressive grounds around Clodiagh House include carefully maintained allotments which are very well utilised by members of the local community.

“People come here for many different reasons and there’s something for everyone,” says Carmel.
“People drop in for general information – they may be looking for information on rights, entitlements, help with filling out a form etc. but they can find out about other services when they come in. We’re constantly taking feedback about what else the community needs.” Members of Mná na Déise saw first-hand how Clodiagh House is having a hugely positive impact on Portlaw. After their visit to Portlaw, they travelled to the Lafcadio Hearn Gardens in Tramore as part of their day-trip and are currently busily preparing for their coffee morning on July 23rd at Lawlor’s Hotel which takes place from 10am – 1pm.The ladies involved with the group are certainly bursting with enthusiasm and drive so hopefully their dream of expanding and securing a new home can soon be realised.

For more information, visit the Mná na Déise Dungarvan Facebook page or call 087 985 3716.

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