There's something very special taking place on the north side of Cork, in a homely little centre off the aptly named Redemption Road.centre off the aptly named Redemption Road.
It is a place where women are returning to education - to learn, to develop new skills and coping mechanisms, to get their lives back on track.
But unlike many other educational institutions across the country, everyone who is here actually wants to be here. They want to progress, to do well, to put in the work and overcome the odds – of which, for most, there are many.
You see, every single woman being educated at the Bruac centre, which is run by Good Shepherd Cork, an organisation that assists women who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness, has a back story. Each one is unique, specific and, for the most part, complicated.Bruac centre, which is run by Good Shepherd Cork, an organisation that assists women who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness, has a back story. Each one is unique, specific and, for the most part, complicated.
Some may have histories of alcoholism, drug use, homelessness. Others may struggle with their mental health. Still more have suffered from domestic violence, or family breakdown. Some, quite simply, found mainstream education wasn't for them, and now they want to go an alternative route to get an education.violence, or family breakdown. Some, quite simply, found mainstream education wasn't for them, and now they want to go an alternative route to get an education.Still more have suffered from domestic violence, or family breakdown. Some, quite simply, found mainstream education wasn't for them, and now they want to go an alternative route to get an education.
Whatever their individual circumstances may be, it's safe to say the students at Bruac have been through a lot. But they're here, and they're trying, and by God are they determined to succeed.Bruac have been through a lot. But they're here, and they're trying, and by God are they determined to succeed.
There are three options for women, between the ages of 16 and 35, who are looking to study at Bruac. You can become a full-time learner, a part-time learner, or you can attend drop-in classes.Bruac. You can become a full-time learner, a part-time learner, or you can attend drop-in classes.
The full-time course, which is funded by the Cork Education & Training Board, offers a wide subject choice including maths, computers, and English.
Learners work towards a Major QQI (Fetac) Award in Employability Skills at Level 3.
Part-time learners do the same course, but with shorter days over a longer time period.
Those attending the drop-in classes study everything and anything from arts and crafts to baking, basic literacy, career planning, nail art, gardening, healthcare, childcare and personal effectiveness.
Local training initiative coordinator at the centre, Geraldine Grant, said the aim is to give people “a bit of scope” so that they can find something they can become really passionate about.
“We do all the basic modules like Maths and Computers and English, but we also try and give people a bit of a choice,” she explained.
“People who come to us tend to be people who have left school early for one reason or another so maybe they don’t have a Junior Certificate or, if they do, it has been a good few years and they’re trying to get back into it and re-enter either the workplace or education.” She said a lot of women who come through the doors have either been through homelessness, or may be vulnerable to it. We try and let people work to their own pace and give people one-to-one assistance if needed. It’s all about building confidence. Confidence in their own abilities,” said Geraldine.to their own pace and give people one-to-one assistance if needed. It’s all about building confidence. Confidence in their own abilities,” said Geraldine.homelessness, or may be vulnerable to it. We try and let people work to their own pace and give people one-to-one assistance if needed. It’s all about building confidence. Confidence in their own abilities,” said Geraldine.
“They get amazing confidence from just being able to achieve something. You can see a real change in people.”
Kate Longmate, who looks after fundraising for the charity, agrees.
“As somebody who is trying to raise funds for the organisation it’s really moving to see the girls receiving certificates. My office is based upstairs and I see the girls every day and I see the incredible things that they achieve and the amazing people that they are and it’s really lovely to see them succeeding. It’s genuinely moving,” she said.
“The model of education here is really unique for the level of one-to-one support and care and attention that the girls receive in a really warm, supportive, unique and innovative educational environment. I think it is really important. It’s lovely to see them being recognised for that because the work that they’ve done to get here, the journeys that they have had in order to come and take part in this are just incredible.”
Charlotte O’Donovan, manager of the centre, explained that Bruac is a place where learning begins for each person “at their own starting point”.
“It is a place where the girls and women who we work with are encouraged to explore and develop their talents and potential. We believe that if a learner is truly accepted for who she is and if they are supported to learn in a caring and safe environment that learning will flourish and that they will reach their potential. We strive every day to make Bruac a welcoming place and to create and atmosphere for learners and staff,” she said.
“Good Shepherd Cork is fortunate to have the support of Cork Education and Training Board and Tusla. And we’re very fortunate to have an alternative framework of qualifications in QQI. But we must be mindful of the obstacles and challenges the girls and some of the ladies who attend Bruac face. Those challenges that can prevent learning, we can’t underestimate their impact and we need to adjust our service and our delivery of service to help learners see through those challenges.”
The Bruac-based Education and Development service is run by Good Shepherd Cork which is a registered charity that works with women and children who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness. It provides a continuum of care from emergency accommodation to long term supported housing, support and advocacy, and education and development.
Donations and fundraising are essential to their ability to provide these services. If you would like to support them, you can donate online at www.goodshepherdcork.ie/make-a-donation. For more information about the Education and Development service, call 021 439 7314.
AS the new CEO of Good Shepherd Cork, Allison Aldred said she has been struck by the amount of “powerful and committed work” going on at the Bruac Centre.
“I started with Good Shepherd Cork in February and what I have seen in the few weeks that I’ve been here is just how effective a model we have in the education and development service. I think we’re doing something that’s really powerful and innovative.”
She said learners at the centre come from many different settings and backgrounds, and each have their own unique experiences.
“They also come with different aspirations and ambitions. But what is often a common experience for people with us is that they’ve been in other settings, other education and training centres, that haven’t worked so well for them.”
Here, however, she has seen that the learners feel safe, supported, and valued.
“The staff help learners feel valued by making small steps, modest achievements. But every small step, every modest achievement, can be a really meaningful experience and it can tell our learners that they can achieve and they can go on and set another target and go on and achieve it. And that’s the beginning of a really powerful journey.”
Speaking at a recent awards ceremony at which more than 20 certificates were handed out, Allison said she was hugely impressed by the efforts of those studying at the centre.
Among the recipients were sisters Constanza and Sucarina Munteanu. Their parents are from Romania but Constanza was born in France and Sucarina was born here in Ireland.
“I like the cooking part of the course, and the childcare,” said Constanza.
“The people here will really help you. If you have a problem with something they’ll help you to get it right. I’ve been coming here two years. My English is better now and I am understanding things more.”
Of course, the work being done at Bruac would not be possible if not for the support of funders like Cork Education and Training Board.
Manager of the CETB training centre, Enda McWeeney, presented some of the girls and women with certificates last week, invoking advice from visually impaired marathon runner Sinead Kane.
“I had the privilege of listening to her speak recently. One of the things she said was that people are going to let you down. That happened to her but she bounced back, she had great determination, and she succeeded ultimately through self-determination,” he said.
“Those that are getting certificates can take a lot from that. They need to keep going because this is only a stepping stone to what you want to achieve. It’s an alternative way of getting the awards, and it is working.”
ONE of the courses offered as part of the Bruac Education and Development service is called WRAP – the Wellness Recovery Action Plan.
One of the coordinators of the group, Geraldine Grant, explains that the course is aimed at improving people’s mental health.
“Anyone who attends the centre as part of the year-long course can do it as part of the programme and it’s really just about finding your own wellness tools and finding a way to achieve your goals in a way that’s manageable for you,” she said.
“Everybody’s WRAP will look slightly different. I think it’s something you can use as you move through your life so we feel it’s quite an important part of the work to focus on our own metal health as part of an overall education journey.”
Recent graduate of the course were sisters Sylvia and Penny Mulqueen who received their certificates in April.
For Sylvia, she knew all throughout secondary school that it wasn't working for her. She found the pressure of mainstream education too intense and was also struggling to deal with personal issues.
When she was in Transition Year, Sylvia made the decision to leave school. While she knew it wasn’t for her, this step also upset her — she wanted to succeed at life, and at education, and to get a good job.
But leaving secondary school behind didn’t necessarily mean leaving education behind, thanks to Good Shepherd Cork.
Sylvia heard about the programme and, only a few short months after leaving mainstream classes behind, decided to give it a go. She enrolled on the course along with her sister Penny.
“We do maths, computers, gardening, childcare, communications, career planning... everything. It sets you up and gives you a focus on what you’d like to do. There’s a great atmosphere. It’s very productive,” said Sylvia.
“I found the WRAP course fantastic... I think the importance of mental health needs to be reinforced in so many places and I think more people should know about this place here and what Good Shepherd Cork does for people. It really is fantastic. The opportunities here are endless.”
“I got the certificate for the WRAP course. I found it great. I found it very helpful in daily life and how you can better your day and keep yourself going, keep yourself well,” she said.
“I definitely do think there needs to be more of a focus on this kind of learning because you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and a lot of people kind of try to hide what they are going through to seem stronger. But I think they need to know it’s ok not to be ok and to be able to ask for help if they need it.”