'My kids see this as a fun place to come': Cork dad welcomes new centre for kids with physical disabilities

Marketing guru Stephen Ryan and his family are uniquely qualified to assess the impact of a new €7.5m centre for children with a physical disability which has been built on the outskirts of Cork city.

'My kids see this as a fun place to come': Cork dad welcomes new centre for kids with physical disabilities

Marketing guru Stephen Ryan and his family are uniquely qualified to assess the impact of a new €7.5m centre for children with a physical disability which has been built on the outskirts of Cork city.

Stephen, who runs his own marketing consultancy, Narration, has osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), commonly known as brittle bone disease, and as a child, he attended the Cork Spastic Clinic, later renamed the Lavanagh Centre in Ballintemple, and now known as Enable Ireland.

His children, Julia, 10, and Cathal, eight, inherited OI and have also been attending Enable Ireland for physio and psychological supports, originally at the Ballintemple centre but now at the new complex in Curraheen. And while the dedication of the staff remains the same, Stephen said the new facilities are worlds apart from the environment he remembers from his childhood.

“The staff were always fantastic and always very supportive when I was there as a child, from pre-school until second class, when they encouraged my parents to send me to main-stream school,” he said.

“But the facilities stayed the same. I was in the old centre before Christmas and all the rooms that I went into as a child looked almost exactly the same, bar a lick of paint here and there. It was very dark, with dark hallways and tight spaces. But my kids now see this as a fun place to come.

“Hopefully they will see this not just a place you go to get physio or treatment in some capacity, it’s a place that will help you go forward in your life.”

His wife, Lorraine Falvey Ryan, said staff always did the best they could to make the experience of visiting the Ballintemple complex easy.

“It was hard going into a dark building, with low ceilings, but the staff tried to brighten the place as much as they could with their smiles,” she said.

The staff always had that brightness. This new building now backs them up. It doesn’t feel like you’re going to a medical appointment anymore.

'Creaking at the seams'

Niall Horgan, the director of services at Enable Ireland Children’s Services Cork, said the old complex, which was facilitating the delivery of child and adult services and a school, was creaking at the seams, with a restricted and cramped site, dodgy heating boilers, and the lack of hoists in certain rooms all adding to the problems.

The charity acquired the former ESB social club building and 7.5-acre site in Curraheen several years ago. The HSE provided a capital allocation of €2m and the sod was turned on the new complex in 2016. It's been operational since Easter.

It has over a dozen spacious therapy, treatment assessment and consulting rooms on the ground floor, as well as a hydrotherapy pool, a playground and an early years education service.

Just over 30 clinical staff and about 18 admin services on the first floor coordinate the delivery of a range of specialist services.

A three-bedroom respite house west of the main complex offers day respite services but it’s in the process of being HIQA-registered for overnight respite.

“For families and service users, living with a disability is challenging and when you are coming for treatment, which can be painful, there can be a lot of anxiety around that,” Mr Horgan said.

“We wanted to make this space bright, friendly, unthreatening and a fun space, so that kids could have their treatment in a way that reduces or lessens the anxiety as much as possible.

“I think we’ve achieved that. There’s a bit more to do but we have good foundations here to build out our services.”

Julia, who's getting physio to rebuild the strength in her arm after breaking a bone just after Christmas, and Cathal, have given the building the thumbs up.

"I'd give the old building seven out of 10. But this is 10 out of 10. I love the space, the entrance, the circular windows and the playground," Cathal said.

It had been hoped to sell the Lavanagh Centre site to help raise the estimated €1m still required but the School of the Divine Child declined to move to Curraheen.

“We have offered the school space on this site to move to and that offer still stands. Any future plans regarding the location of the school is a matter for the Department of Education and the school’s patron, the Bishop of Cork,” Mr Horgan said.

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