All the signs of a good enterprise: Cork charity expands services

Deaf Enterprises, which until now has specialised in high quality furniture renovation, has begun a new initiative which will see some of its employees training to become qualified bicycle mechanics as they recycle and repair used bikes.
All the signs of a good enterprise: Cork charity expands services

Group pictured at the launch of the new Sign & Cycle project at Cork Deaf Enterprises, Ballinlough, Cork. Included are Cllr. Derry Canty, deputising for the Lord Mayor; David McCarthy, chairman, and Steven Flint, general manager, Cork Deaf Enterprises; Mark Whitaker, CEO, Johnson & Perrott Motor Group; Matt Jones, co-ordinator, Cork Community Bikes, guests and members of the team at Cork Deaf Enterprises.

A CORK charity, Ireland’s only dedicated employer of people who are deaf and hard of hearing, is expanding its business in an environmentally friendly way.

Deaf Enterprises, which has specialised in high-quality furniture renovation, has begun a new initiative: Some of its employees will train to become bicycle mechanics, recycling and repairing bikes.

David McCarthy, chairman of Deaf Enterprises, told The Echo that the company has, with generous corporate support, built a new workshop, which will be home to its new Sign & Cycle project.

“We’ve expanded by covering an area of the carpark with this outside building, which houses our French polishing and some of the upholstery work done by the craftspeople that work in Deaf Enterprises, but it also has our Sign & Cycle initiative, which is our new programme that we’re running in partnership with Cork Community Bikes,” Mr McCarthy said.

“It’s a Pobal-funded initiative; we’re one of four in the country who are attempting to do a social enterprise based around the recycling and reuse of bicycles.”

Deaf Enterprises’ new workshop was built with the support of both its corporate sponsor, Johnson & Perrot Motor Group, and Summerhill Construction.

“We take in old, battered bikes from the community, and we have a number of trainees from the deaf and hard-of-hearing community that are being trained up as bike mechanics, who will repair and recycle those bikes to good working order, and we will then do a mix of sale to the public and distribution to disadvantaged communities,” Mr McCarthy said.

“Our main focus is to get bikes in, repair them, and give them to areas of disadvantage, people in direct provision, Ukrainian refugees coming in (either kids or adults), who are looking for transport. They’d be the core areas that we are looking to distribute the bikes to.”

Sign & Cycle was officially opened last week by Derry Canty, Fine Gael councillor, deputising for Lord Mayor Deirdre Forde, and he said he had been impressed by his visit to Deaf Enterprises.

“I hadn’t realised this was here, and it has really opened my eyes. The furniture restoration they do here is just top class, I was just amazed by the quality of the work on display in their showroom, and now the new work they’re doing with bicycles is just fantastic,” Mr Canty said.

35th anniversary

Deaf Enterprises, which is in Sundrive Park in Ballinlough, was founded in 1987 by Father Bill Clarke, and this year marks the 35th anniversary of the establishment of their showroom and workshop. It has a reputation for work of the highest quality.

The company offers training and placements, as well as full-time employment, for members of a community that has suffered for years from high unemployment.

“At the moment, we have 37 people who have varying levels of deafness or hard-of-hearing working with us in Deaf Enterprises, and we have non-deaf people as well,” Mr McCarthy said.

Sign & Cycle employs four people, and Deaf Enterprises hope to add a further two people in the coming months.

Two of the people working in Sign & Cycle are a Ukrainian couple, Ruslan Tolstenkov and Olena Tolstenkova, who are both deaf and who came to Cork fleeing Russia’s illegal invasion.

Mr Tolstenkov and Ms Tolstenkova spoke with The Echo, with Zivile, a Lithuanian who lives in Cork, translating their Russian, Ukrainian, and International Sign Language for Irish Sign Language (ISL) translator Suzanne Carey, who, in turn, put it into spoken word.

“Kieran Meligan, in Cork Deaf Association, told us about Deaf Enterprises and he supported us and put us in touch with them, and that’s how we ended up here,” Ms Tolstenkova said.

“We’re very happy here, and Ruslan is learning a lot about fixing bicycles; he’s been learning very quickly, he’s a good learner.” There are many similarities between the Russian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian sign languages, Ms Carey said. They have different alphabets, but similar vocabularies.

When asked if ISL, which became an official State language, alongside Irish and English, in the Irish Sign Language (ISL) Act 2017, is different from their sign languages, Mr Tolstenkov, Ms Tolstenkova, and Zivile all laughed, with Mr Tolstenkov signing, “Very different”, and emphasising the word ‘very’.

They agreed that the differences between ISL and Ukrainian Sign Language would be as vast as the differences between the spoken English language and the spoken Ukrainian language, and they are taking regular ISL classes.

Mr Tolstenkov was a taxi driver in Ukraine, and Ms Tolstenkova was a baker, and they have a son who is 14 and who is not deaf. His English is good, and he has settled well in school here.

“We have been made to feel so welcome in Ireland, and Irish people are so friendly and kind,” Mr Tolstenkov said.

Mr McCarthy described the expansion as “a game changer” for Deaf Enterprises.

“It’s allowed us to expand the activity we have, and we’re now working at a point where we have a three-month pipeline of work for the team, so we’re actually coming out of the pandemic in a really strong position from a financial perspective, which is great from the community side, because they get the sustainability of employment, which is obviously a key worry for all employers at the moment, so for us to be in that strong position is really, really good,” Mr McCarthy said.

Mr Canty said he would be championing Deaf Enterprises to his colleagues in City Hall.

“I think we should all be more aware of the incredible work that Deaf Enterprises do, and I really think we all need to support them in their work,” he said.

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