Laois Down Syndrome group gets 'field of dreams' for new centre

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Laois Down Syndrome group get 'field of dreams' for new centre

Down Syndrome Ireland 'Laois Branch' outside Laois County Council celebrating Down Syndrome Week in March

Down Syndrome Ireland's Laois Branch has got the 4 acres it was seeking in Abbeyleix to build a major training and therapy centre for all its members.

Laois County Council members approved the lease of the land, beside Abbeyleix Fire Station, at their July 30 council meeting.

The lease is for an initial three years, to Down Syndrome Ireland, for a nominal fee of €1 a year, with a 'use it or lose it' clause. This is expected to be followed by a 25 year lease.

The Laois group said it is delighted.

"The site will be known as the Down Syndrome Ireland “Laois Branch Field of Dreams” and will be used as a Sheltered Employment Training Centre of Excellence for our adult members with intellectual difficulties, similar to our sister Cork Branch Field of Dreams.

"This Centre will, in the fullness of time, be home to a building that will house all necessary therapies and supports for members to augment the employment training programmes we will be running there," spokesperson Michael Gorman said.

"There are many people we need to thank in helping us to achieve this huge milestone in our organisation’s long history in Laois over the last twenty-three years. Particularly in our Family Centre in Gort Na nOir Abbeyleix in recent years when we implemented our “Cradle to Grave philosophy” looking after our members throughout the life cycle no matter what stage in life they are at," Mr Gorman said.

The charity thanked Laois County Council for responding to their request made in a presentation in May 2017.

"We were astounded by the positive messages of support from every County Councillor at the meeting. Likewise, the support from Chief Executive John Mulholland in follow up meetings was
again hugely positive. Director of Services Donal Brennan coordinated the whole process and put a huge amount of work into making sure everything was feasible and held several meetings with us to this end before proceeding with the proposal. We were greatly heartened by the positivity we met from everyone involved in our pursuit of this project," Mr Gorman said.

The Laois field of dream will train adults with Down Syndrome so they can work for proper wages in the mainstream economy.

"Our adult population will benefit greatly from this venture by helping to prepare them for meaningful employment in the community which will lead to positive mental health and well-being and support them to integrate fully into our communities around the county. They will have a reason to get up in the morning like the rest of us in mainstream society," he said.

They were initially boosted with a donation of €10,000 in 2016 from celebrity solicitor Gerald Kean, so impressed was he by the charity at the Heritage Hotel Killenard Gala Ball, which was in aid of DSI “Laois Branch”.

"It gave us the impetus to persevere and follow our dream," said Mr Gorman.

Now the whole Laois community is asked to get behind them.

"We are hoping to get huge support from the people of Laois in helping to finance this venture. People with intellectual difficulties have a great deal to offer in the workplace. It is acknowledged, and there is empirical evidence to show that where people with Down Syndrome are employed by a company, there have been positive results for employers, such as less sickness and absenteeism among fellow workers with an increase in productivity also.

People with Down Syndrome have an infectious nature that makes others working around them happier for being in their company. So, there is a dividend for employers to buy into a venture like this," Mr Gorman said.

The Lease was proposed by Cllr John Joe Fennelly, and seconded by Cllr Mary Sweeney.