Traders in Cork’s famous English Market have ‘hired’ some very special staff to help cope with the Christmas rush.
Clients of the ground-breaking Field of Dreams charity, which works with young adults with Down Syndrome, are rolling up their sleeves, donning aprons and reporting for duty behind several market stalls and in the market’s award-winning Farmgate restaurant as part of a new charity partnership.
They will be on duty on several selected shifts between now and Christmas Eve as thousands of customers are expected to flock to the historic food market for their festive provisions.
And while the new market recruits will get valuable work experience, customers of the historic food emporium are being asked to dig deep and donate to the charity which has developed a very special campus in a field on the western outskirts of Cork city.
Aoife Lovett was among those who reported for work at K O’Connell’s fish stall today.
Market spokesman and fishmonger, Pat O’Connell, said she took to it like a duck to water and kept everything running smoothly.
“She was just brilliant. She kept us all on our toes and brings a smile to everybody’s face,” he said.
Rebecca Harte, who runs the Farmgate restaurant, said their new recruit, Khadija Bouncir, was fantastic as well.
Mr O'Connell said he hopes the Christmas charity partnership will lead to a lasting relationship between the market and Field of Dreams.
“I can see, in time, the food that they are growing in Curraheen being sold in the market. The ethos of what they are doing in that remarkable field fits in well with the ethos of the market - top quality, locally grown produce,” he said.
We choose a charity partner every year and we try to focus on those charities working with children or the vulnerable.
“We came across Field of Dreams last summer and discovered that when young adults with Down Syndrome reach 21, they are effectively abandoned by the various services, and they are then at risk of losing friends and connections they have built up.
“We thought the Field of Dreams approach was an amazing idea and we realised that this field in the middle of Curraheen is no ordinary field. It is such a simple idea - and yet such a brilliant idea.”
Field of Dreams was established by Down Syndrome Cork (DSC) in 2017, with phase one opening in 2018. Its clients are taught to grow their own fruit and vegetables, and the centre provides a range of education, training, and work opportunities in a “safe, secure and inspirational environment”.
The project was part-inspired by the 1989 fantasy film, Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, in which characters emerge from the cornfield to play baseball.
Despite 95% of adults with Down Syndrome being unemployed, DSC chairman Ray O’Callaghan said the vision is to encourage their kids to emerge from the shadows and to have the same opportunities as everyone.
“Eight graduated from our first programme this year and all are now employed. We aim to secure jobs for all 22 who are in the second tranche,” he said.
“We are very humbled and proud to be linked to the English Market. We are delighted and thankful that they thought of us.
“It is making a big difference to the lives of our students, and their families. Having a job, being challenged in that job, gives our students a sense of responsibility, of being valued, and the wage they earn gives them a sense of independence. And being in the workplace also gives them even more tools to learn.
“I would encourage more employers to contact us. We will happily show them around.”
The project will be featured on Nationwide on RTÉ 1 television at 7pm Wednesday night.