Tess Kelly has been working in Tait House for just over a year. She is currently in the role of Action Centre Officer but could also be described as ‘the one who’ll put her hand to anything’ within the Tait House organization.
Originally from Wolverhampton in the UK, Tess’s parent were Irish ex-pats who made the decision to relocate to Limerick back in 2007. Born with a love of art and creativity Tess realized that one of Europe’s most highly regarded art colleges was on her doorstep so it was a no brainer that she successfully applied for a place at Limerick School of Art and Design in 2009.
After graduating in Sculpture and Combined Media at LSAD, she graduated in 2012 and went on to study felt, training for a time with Kate Ramsey based out of the Limerick Craft Hub.
“My time working at the Craft Hub was a wonderful experience”, Tess remembers.
“Learning to make handmade products and getting what I call the ‘creativity buzz’ on a daily basis opened my eyes to the magic of art as a therapeutic experience. I firmly believe that creativity opens wonderful new opportunities for developing positive mental health. You don’t just have to be a skilled professional to experience such benefits – you just need to embrace the possibilities and be willing to try”.
It was around this time that Tess got her first experience working with various groups in the community sector. She worked on various creative schools’ programmes and also with organizations such as the Simon Community and Headway.
It was an experience with Headway, an organisation working with people with acquired brain injury in Ireland, that opened a new journey in life. Tess was invited to run an 8-week creative programme at Headway, an encounter that she will never forget.
“In my group, there was one older gentleman who I noticed was particularly reticent about taking part in the art classes. It was clear he was lacking confidence and couldn’t find it in him to participate”, Tess says.
“I needed to tap into what made him tick and eventually discovered that his real love was poetry. I convinced him to use this passion as the basis for a creative piece. He chose to take words and phrases from his favourite poems to create something truly beautiful. He surprised himself by challenging his own boundaries and by the end of the programme he was a new person. Witnessing his confidence grow over that 8-week programme was such an inspiration to me”.
It was this experience that inspired Tess to embark on a new study path. She enrolled on a counselling and psychotherapy training course at the Irish College of Humanities and Applied Sciences in Castletroy. Soon after graduating she successfully applied for a role at Tait House and hasn’t looked back.
Tess’s Tait House career began as she took on the role administering the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) 2018-2022 is funded by the Irish Government through the Department of Rural and Community Development and co-funded by the European Social Fund under the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL) 2014-2020 and delivered by Tait House to the Southill community. The programme provides funding to tackle poverty and social exclusion through local engagement and partnerships between disadvantaged individuals, community organisations and public sector agencies.
SICAP was Tess’s introduction to all that happens under the Tait House umbrella, something she describes as a ‘wonderful experience’.
“This was my first introduction to the concept of social enterprise and how such an enterprise works so it has been a fascinating learning”, Tess says.
“As the SICAP go-to officer, I work one to one with clients to develop an action plan for them. They might come into us looking for access to education. We then work through a plan looking at the steps they need to take to reach their goal and guide them to achieve that goal”.
What started as working on the SICAP aspect has now evolved into the role as Action Centre Officer where Tess and the team develop the community-based activity aspect of the Tait House Community Enterprise. Tess describes her position as a ‘community activation role’.
“We work with a wide range of types of people, mostly with people who are hoping to re-enter the workforce after finding themselves in long-term unemployment. We are in a position to do research on-site also to help them with upskilling, getting access to grants and offering them a full mentorship and support service”, she says.
“We have so many services on site. We offer a MABS financial advice service; free legal aid, the LES are also on-site – there is a wonderful synergy between all the services offered here at Tait House. If someone comes into us they are entering a one-stop shop when it comes to getting their career back on track”, she adds.
Tess and her team have recently launched an innovative new programme which is being developed in collaboration with Judge Marian O’Leary. This new programme offers an opportunity for people who have committed small drug offences not to receive a criminal conviction if they work with the Tait team who help to facilitate community service opportunities that they might not be able to source by themselves.
“The programme has been a fantastic addition particularly with the link into SICAP. You can clearly see a big change in those who have come through our doors”, Tess says. “To see them gain self-confidence and to make new positive decisions about their life is such a rewarding thing to be a part of. The nature of what goes on here in Tait House allows people like this to see all that goes on and exposes them to a new world of opportunity that is theirs for the taking should they make that decision”.
Tess is a huge believer in how creativity can have a positive impact on mental health. She has reason to be. At the age of 16, she was diagnosed with dyslexia after years of difficulty when it came to literacy and numeracy. Despite her late diagnosis, she notes that she had a very positive experience in terms of dealing with dyslexia.
“I suppose my love of art helped – it wasn’t such a wordy world I was entering!!”, Tess says.
“My mum had me when she was quite young but was nothing but the greatest support to me. She fought hard for me to get tested for dyslexia at a time when my school didn’t think there was anything wrong. My experience has made me a firm believer in the importance of promoting the different learning difficulties that do exist and the supports that are out there to help”.
Tess’s experience working as SICAP co-ordinator at Tait House brought her into contact with a wide range of different clients, an experience that made her realise the vast array of learning difficulties that exist.
“It was shocking for me to realise that some may not have had the supports I had. Many have had a very negative experience at school as a result of having in such difficulties. I was determined to advocate on their behalf in some small way”.
Tess holds pride in the fact that she ran a dyslexia seminar in Tait House just before Christmas and is hoping to roll out more of these in 2019 to allow parents and people with dyslexia to learn about the supports that exist.
She places great emphasis on Tait House as a place where there is an openness amongst the entire team to proffer new ideas for classes or workshops that might benefit the community.
“The management team is always open to new ideas and that’s what makes working here so special”, she says.
“I was lucky enough to be involved in the inaugural Trash Fashion workshops that were introduced last year as part of the Team Limerick Clean-up initiative”, she notes.
The idea behind the Trash Fashion concept was to get kids creative whilst also learning the importance of environmental care. They are inspired to reuse recycling materials to create fashion pieces, learning that you don’t necessarily need expensive art materials to be creative.
No shirker, Tess also runs meditation classes with the Tait House after-school programme which is run through the creche on site. These classes allow kids to simply take an hour per week to themselves and to focus on their emotional side whilst also promoting positive wellbeing and relaxation techniques.
“The SICAP programme allowed me to recognize the fluidity between the various businesses we have on-site”, Tess says.
“The synergy between everything that happens here allows us to really help the people who come through our doors. It is a launchpad to help people who may have found themselves stuck in the big bad world. We can guide them in terms of getting solid work experience opportunities, help with CV development and guide them terms of their next moves when it comes to securing work”.
Two of her clients recently received work experience from Treaty Steel, one of the Tait House Social Enterprises. This work experience has resulted in them securing their safe passes, a vital asset when it comes to getting further work in this field. One of them has gone on to study further and has secured a full-time apprenticeship. The other is working full-time. These are success stories that deserve to be told.
Tess would advise anybody embarking on a new career path or re-entering the workforce after a long spell out of employment to check out what Tait House does.
“There are so many opportunities we can help you discover. Our team are here to guide you and mentor you, but most importantly to give you a warm welcome. The building itself and its grounds are simply stunning. I am constantly telling friends to pop in and take a look at where I work. It really is one of Limerick’s hidden gems!”.
“We have a new mindfulness class schedule being planned over the next few weeks and it all of these events and classes are mostly free and are open for anyone to take part in. The classes offered on-site at Tait House are constantly evolving, with more being added on a daily basis. From parent and child art classes; cookery courses; horticulture training; rehearsed theatre readings; coffee mornings and hairdressing training – there really is something for everyone”.