Social Economy enterprises are being developed to offer further training and employment opportunities in Ireland. Festina Lente was featured in Issue 49 of Frontline. A year on, Jill Carey introduces Festina Lente Enterprises.

The role of FÁS in relation to training and employment for people with disabilities

Resulting from the dissolution of the National Rehabilitation Board and the redistribution of services to different agencies, FÁS now has the responsibility to provide labour market services for people with disabilities. FÁS is also responsible for assisting people with a disability to find and take up paid employment and for supporting people with a disability to access vocational training programmes in preparation for employment.

To help fulfil this responsibility FAS have put in place a variety of supports including funding of training centres known as Specialist Training Providers and a variety of employment supports such as Job Interview Interpreter Grants, Personal Reader Grants, Employment Support Schemes and Workplace Equipment/Adaptation Grants. FÁS is also responsible for the Supported Employment Programme.

Social Economy Programme

Another means of supporting training and employment for people with disabilities takes place through a FÁS-funded programme known as the Social Economy Programme. This programme has been designed to support the development of social economy enterprises that will benefit economic and social rejuvenation of the community. A social economy enterprise aims to provide sustainable employment opportunities and in doing so, puts emphasis on responding to the training and development needs of those employed. The Social Economy Programme provides up to three years grant support to social economy enterprises providing employment opportunities for specific groups of people including people with disabilities.

The Social Economy Programme commenced in 2000- At the end of December 2002 there were 324 social economy enterprises up and running across the country. Projects vary significantly and include enterprises involved in cake-making, provision of accessible transport to people with disabilities, organic farms, IT centres, knitting crews, etc., etc.

Festina Lente Enterprises—a Social Economy-funded programme

This article tells how one organisation in Bray has embraced the mainstreaming of employment for people with disabilities through its recently approved social economy funded programme ‘Festina Lente Enterprises’.

Why Social Economy funding?

One of the problems typically associated with training programmes is: What happens when the training is finished? Does the person stay on in the training service, move to another service, get a job or stay at home to wait for something to turn up? While a training programme equips the trainee with many new vocational and living skills, the fact that on-going support may be needed in different areas still remains.

Festina Lente Foundation provides training programmes in both horticulture and equestrianism. On completion of training, trainees may progress to further training and education, supported employment or open employment depending on choice, job availability and/or confidence to make the transition from familiar surroundings.

However, for some trainees—and for different reasons—a move to a new job is not the preferred choice. For example, employment in the equestrian industry can be dependent on having your own transport, living away from home and usually working quite long hours. Although there are some very good employers, the equestrian industry has to be assisted in its efforts to embrace employment legislation.

Similarly, some of the men and women finishing the Horticultural Training Programme may choose to work in the Festina Lente Walled Garden for a period of time before further developing their career elsewhere.

With this in mind, Festina Lente Foundation decided to apply for Social Economy funding to set up three enterprises which would provide not only a progression route to the trainees involved in the programmes, but would also enhance the existing services that are provided to members of the public. The enterprises are:

  • Festina Lente Riding School, which provides lessons to children and adults and can employ up to four people with a disability
  • Festina Lente Gardens, which can employ up to nine people with a disability in the restoration of an eighteenth century garden—with plans to open to the public.
  • Festina Lente Tea-Rooms, which will provide a catering service to those availing of the services and the local community and can employ up to three people with a disability.

In terms of staffing, approval was given for a total of 19 people to be employed, with additional funding for recruitment, overhead and set-up costs, capital needs, staff development and financial advice and support.

The project will be grant-aided for three years, at the end of which Festina Lente Enterprises is expected to be self-financing. Because the Social Economy Programme as a relatively new national initiative is relatively new, the continuation after the three years is still unclear.

Opportunities or challenges?

Well, probably a bit of both. Festina Lente Enterprises now provides paid employment not only to the men and women finishing training, but also to those in the wider community meeting the criteria for Social Economy funded enterprises. In line with its mission, there is now a greater degree of choice available to people. With the emphasis on staff training and development there are many opportunities available for learning, career development and progression. These are definitely opportunities.

There will be ongoing opportunities to review how all the activities are managed and delivered. Certainly the Enterprises will generate income, and fundraising will continue. The other side of the coin, of course, is the challenge to run and develop the Enterprises so that they do not remain reliant on FÁS funding at the end of the three years. Time, and our efforts, will show whether the Enterprises will be able to continue without that funding.

In the meantime, we look forward with great enthusiasm to recruiting for the enterprises and getting on with the business.

Festina Lente Riding School—Barry’s story

Barry works as a stable hand in the Festina Lente Riding School. He is 23 and was diagnosed as having aphasia at a very early age. He lives with his parents and sister and brother in Dún Laoghaire. Barry attended the Special Language Unit in Ballinteer Community School between 1992 and 1999. After leaving school he and his parents looked for a suitable training programme for him. After visiting and meeting the staff at Festina Lente, both he and his parents agreed that he would like to start the three-year training programme in horsemanship skills.

Barry successfully completed the course, but was then faced with a dilemma: there were no equestrian yards near his home and he didn’t have his own transport to access yards further away. Although there are many equestrian yards across the country that would have employed Barry, he didn’t want to make move away from home.

So when the option of Festina Lente Riding School as a Social Economy-funded programme was offered to Barry he was delighted. It has provided Barry with a progression route beyond the training programme. He is still in familiar surroundings, works alongside the people he knows well and is able to use his skills and knowledge in paid employment.

We asked Barry about his experiences of moving from the training centre to a job in the Riding School.

Why did you want to work with horses in the first place?

‘I used to go into the Horse Show with my mother and I used to ask her if I could go and look at the horses. My sister went horse-riding and I used to go with my parents to collect her. So I have always had an interest in horses.’

Do you like your job in the Riding school?

‘Yes I do. I come in every day and muck out, groom the ponies, lead them in and out of the field and sweep the yard. I like everybody—they’re great fun and a great laugh. I also do riding lessons during the week, and stable management lessons. I might do my British Horse Society Stage 1 next year—but only maybe!’

Which is your favourite job?

‘I don’t have a favourite job, but my favourite pony is April—she’s lovely.’

For how long do you see yourself staying in the Riding School?

I’m not sure—I think for another few years.


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