Redundancy turned us into a couple of makers

A husband and wife, who lost their jobs on the same day, returned to college and have set up a new business, writes Colette Sheridan
Redundancy turned us into a couple of makers
Sarah Joyce.

ADVERSITY has been the making of Youghal-based husband and wife team, Donny and Sarah Joyce, who went back to college to study furniture design when they were laid off from their jobs in 2014.

The couple’s work is on show at Sense/Ability, the end-of-year exhibition at Colaiste Stiofáin Naofa (CSN) until September 22.

The exhibition showcases the incredible selection of diverse art and design student work from courses in Art, Craft & Design, Furniture Design & Making, and Digital Media.

Donny and Sarah both worked for the same contract cleaning company. Sarah was the office administrator and Donny worked as a supervisor on the factory floor.

When the company went under, it was “extremely difficult” for the couple, who both lost their jobs on the same day.

When their first child, Abigail, was born, Sarah worked for the company from home. Now, the couple’s second child is due in July and they are embarking on a business venture that will allow them to work from home, in a workshop in their back garden.

Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, Sarah started making plans as soon as she and her husband became unemployed.

“I said to Donny that this was our opportunity and that there was no better time for us to do what we want to do.

“We wanted to be designers in charge of ourselves, living a life where we’re not answering to anyone, as difficult as we know it will be.

“We want to be able to raise a family and do what we want to do at the same time.”

When Sarah, originally from Tramore Road, left school, she studied interior design at CIT.

“I only did it for a year. Then I did a couple of years in architecture at WIT (Waterford Institute of Technology) but I couldn’t find my teeth with either of them. Looking back, I wish I had finished those courses. I needed to be more hands on. I wasn’t that confident in my abilities. When I didn’t achieve, I told myself that I wasn’t good enough. It was only after Abigail was born that I decided to really pursue something and here I am at CSN with Donny.”

College has suited Sarah.

“I was always doing night courses and learning things on the internet. But for Donny, going to college was extremely difficult. He left school before the Inter Cert. I said we would do the furniture design course together.

“I thought I was going to get into illustration or graphic design, but Donny always had a thing for furniture. His dad used to make things. We came to an exhibition at CSN and knew the furniture design course was for us. It has been extremely hard but I wouldn’t change a single day of it. Some people think that because it’s not a degree, it can’t be that hard. But it’s no easier than the couple of years I spent doing architecture.

“We have given the course at CSN everything, doing long days, normally starting at 8.30am. We’re lucky that my mother can collect Abigail from crèche when necessary.”

Don Joyce. Picture: Diane Cusack
Don Joyce. Picture: Diane Cusack

Donny and Sarah have been attending workshops and classes in design at CSN including computer design.

“There’s also the history of art and the history of furniture, all going towards the same journey to make you a better designer.”

The couple study together, complementing each other’s different strengths.

“Donny is more comfortable with the hands-on stuff. That’s very new to me. I have no problem with the assignments and the computer side of things, so I help him with that. We’ve balanced it out very well over the two years.

“Donny has always done some carpentry, getting a day here and there helping a friend. He is handy around the house. What he has achieved in two years is phenomenal.”

Donny’s final year project involved making a handmade walnut chair that is a throwback to mid twentieth century modernist Danish design.

“He spent months making jigs for it, which is like a template. It allows him to reproduce the same piece again and again. With my help, he’s going to do a pre-fabricated version of the chair to show it can be done with the same design. It will go through a machine and will be made out of plywood. It’s a much quicker process. It’s the same chair made in two different ways.”

Sarah’s main focus is on homeware.

“I love beautiful things around the house. I make different items made out of wood, such as bowls. I’m looking towards the market for ceramicists. The range I’ve developed can be built on. So it’s not one-off pieces.

“What I do is make products that can be added to the collection, the way a ceramicist develops a collection and puts it into a shop.”

The business is called ‘A Couple of Makers’ and Sarah is working on the branding, the company logo and a website. Instead of having to buy expensive machinery, the Joyces will avail of CSN’s Fab Lab where equipment can be rented by the hour.

“One of our lecturers, Fergal Somers, has started a new venture called Bench Space. He is renting a massive warehouse in the Marina Commercial Park. It’s for designers from all over the city like ourselves. We hope to use that, which involves paying a monthly fee for the use of machinery and benches.”

The next stage for Sarah and Donny is to approach the Enterprise Board. Sarah says that people have told her that becoming self- employed is “crazy to even think about”.

“But I just think if it’s in you, you believe you’re going to get through the obstacles. We don’t want to be rich. We’re not looking to have lots of things. We’re just people who want to wake up every morning and do something we enjoy and to be able to collect the kids from school and not be tied into a run-of-the-mill job.”

Sarah says she isn’t at all nervous about the venture: “Donny wouldn’t be pessimistic. But he’s a realist about the pitfalls, whereas I just say, it will happen. Keep trying and it will happen. I think half of it is belief and you have to be in the right place at the right time.

“At the moment, even if we can pay ourselves wages, it would be fantastic. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get our stuff into the Cork Craft and Design shop and the Kilkenny Shop,” says Sarah, whose can-do attitude should serve the business well.

Rebecca Corcoran, Matthew McCarthy, Jessica Moynihan, Christian Connolly – Art, Craft and Design Level 5 Colaiste Stiofain Naofa. Picture: Diane Cusack
Rebecca Corcoran, Matthew McCarthy, Jessica Moynihan, Christian Connolly – Art, Craft and Design Level 5 Colaiste Stiofain Naofa. Picture: Diane Cusack

ALSO showcasing their work as part of the Sense/Ability, end-of-year exhibition at Colaiste Stiofáin Naofa (CSN) will be students from the Art, Craft and Design QQI Level 5, a renowned portfolio course.

It allows students to explore their options before applying for Third Level. Learners gain valuable insights into many art and design disciplines before choosing the most suitable college course to suit their preferred career path.

This exciting educational opportunity was taken up by school leavers Matthew McCarthy and Michaela Nagle. This year they have prepared a portfolio and are now college-ready.

Matthew McCarthy said: “I had considered applying for Languages at UCC, but I thought I might like art better. I figured a year at CSN would help me make my mind up one way or the other.

“The experience has confirmed that art is what I really have a passion for. I’ve secured a place on the Fine Art programme at CIT Crawford College of Art & Design, and I’m now committed to pursuing art as a career.”

Michaela Nagle said: “I had considered applying for Interior Design, Journalism and Culinary Studies but I wasn’t entirely happy with any of these choices. I knew I wanted to do something that involved art in some way, so I attended the Open Day at CSN and I was amazed at the quality of work on show. I spoke to some of the students; they all spoke very highly of the course and recommended doing it in order to put a strong portfolio together.

“When I first started Art, Craft and Design, I found some aspects of it, like the still life drawing classes, quite challenging. But after a while I began to find my own style, and learn about what I want to do in the future.

“I have now decided to do Visual Communications at CIT and work towards becoming an illustrator.”

Also showcasing will be students of the Digital Media Two Year BTEC Higher National Diploma, which provides training in areas of web design, animation, compositing, 3D graphics, visual effects, and game design.

Student Dion O’Sullivan said: “ I am so thrilled to discover that Digital Media is something I can turn into a career and this is my plan. I find the concept of putting together an entire interactive website or fully functioning application game still utterly fascinating. Seeing the finished product is even better.

“When I learned I could do a top-up course in the UK, I applied immediately and was accepted. Going abroad to study for a year is both one of the most exciting and daunting things I’d ever had the opportunity to do, and honestly I cannot wait.”


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