In the summer of last year, Orchard Centre in Gort got involved in a project called ‘Orchard Tours’. Three staff were involved in the project, which was funded by the EU. We were also in partnership with the Kerry Parents and Friends Association.
Before we could get started, we had to go through some training. That involved communications skills–for example, tour-guiding skills and meeting and greeting skills. The training went on from 9.30 in the morning until 5.00 in the evening. Some of the training was done through drama and ‘role play’. We also did cookery as part of our training. Once a month during the project, we had a visit from the NRB.
When we were near the end of our training, we got our uniforms–navy pants, white blouse or shirt and a grey striped jacket. We also had a badge with ‘Orchard Tours’ on it. There were seven clients who worked in Orchard Tours in Gort, and six in Kerry.
Orchard Tours is a tour for people with disabilities, run by people with disabilities. Many such people came on holidays with Orchard Tours, some from as far away as London in England. There were also people from Tipperary, Dublin and Kerry who had holidays with us.
Orchard Tours took people with disabilities to places like Coole Park, which was once the home of Lady Gregory. Many famous people visited there, like William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland. Lady Gregory wrote many stories and plays. She was one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, along with Seán O’Casey, another famous writer. We showed pictures of Lady Gregory and her home to help people who might not understand what the story was about.
We also took people to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. The Castle was built in the seventeenth century and was owned by the powerful O’Brien family. The castle was surrounded by water to stop invaders from attacking it. There are also a craft shop and cottages in Bunratty, so people can see how other people used to live long ago.
We also took tours to the Burren in County Clare. The Burren is the home of many plants and flowers and we took walks among the rocks there and visited a perfume factory where they use some of the Burren flowers to make perfume. They also have their own shop.
We took people shopping in Galway, and for a trip on the boat Corrib Princess. We took them out in the evening and showed them a good time. During our time in Orchard Tours we did crafts as well. We held workshops in paper marbling and card-making.
The Orchard Tours project ended last December when the funding ran out. Since then, we have got Leader money to start up ‘Orchard Crafts’. We make crafts in our own craft centre, and sell them in our Orchard Shop. We make all kinds of greeting cards, silk painting and silk scarves, wall hangings and fridge magnets.
Orchard Tours may be gone for now, but we have our crafts and the shop. I would still like to see Orchard Tours start up again!