The aptly named Field of Dreams is an arm of Down Syndrome Cork and focused on supporting adults with Down syndrome in the region.
Providing an inspirational training environment, with an emphasis on learning through meaningful and productive tasks in a social and holistic setting, it is located on a three-acre site made available by the Munster Agricultural Society at Curraheen.
“We know adults with Down syndrome can and do live fulfilling lives but they can also meet with obstacles,” says Sharon Mulcathy, Field of Dreams manager.
The site incorporates a training room, commercial grade kitchen with cafe area, polytunnels, market garden, sensory and remembrance garden, an orchard and recreational areas. A fruit garden is under construction, due for completion shortly.
“With funding support from the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, this is a model of social farming, where all the benefits of working in nature — physical, mental, emotional, social — are already being experienced by those learning, working and volunteering here,” she explains.
“Two years after opening our doors, Field of Dreams Cork currently has work opportunities identified for 75% of our participants who are due to graduate in July 2019. Comparing that to the national statistic of 5% and it is a figure that we are very proud of and the real change in the lives of our members and their families it represents.”
One of the ultimate objectives for trainees is placement in meaningful employment, and a dedicated employment support specialist works with businesses within the Cork community towards placing and supporting adults with Down syndrome in roles appropriate to the individual and the business.
“Locally, our employment support specialist, Eva O’Donovan, has placed two of our participants in work experience with Marymount University Hospice and Ryan’s SuperValu Togher. In addition, four more job opportunities will be available at Marks & Spencers Cork after graduation. Eva is a woman on a mission to achieve 100% placement for our participants.”
As part of the Growing With Our Communities initiative, Heineken is helping Field of Dreams through financial donations, volunteering and business consultancy to set up a profitable social enterprise at Curaheen.
“The idea is to sell some of the plants grown by service users to raise further funds for the initiative, creating real employment opportunities in the process.
From September, three programmes will be on offer at Field of Dreams, and the prospect of participant capacity soaring from 8 now to a potential 22.
The new Education and Training Programme builds on the success of the pilot programme and incorporates two strands: Activation and Ability.
“The Activation Programme will run one day a week and offer practical activities, including cookery, gardening, arts and crafts. As with the previous course, fun remains a key element,” she adds.
Two Ability Programmes will run side by side, each for two days a week for two years. The first, Ability, Practical Literacy and Technology, follows a bespoke programme developed by University of Queensland for people with intellectual disability. This programme enhances core-comprehension skills, improved communication, builds self-confidence, improves literacy and technology skills. The second, Ability Work Skills, will combine horticulture skills with workplace readiness.
“Nationally and internationally a very high percentage of adults with Down syndrome are reported to be unemployed and our membership reflects this,” says Eva. “Supporting participants into employment is a key objective for the Field of Dreams. I’m delighted to say that this programme brings this dream a few steps closer.”