Rural and Social Isolation – how Ballycran tackles the issue

In a club like ours, people know each other well; we are a rural community and we work together and play together! We like to think that the Club provides something for everyone, not just playing members, but we try to look outside our premises and bring others in; carry them along with us. 2017 saw the advent of two new ventures for Ballycran, in the form of Crochet and Flower Arranging Classes. Both very different, but designed to appeal to a community where social and rural isolation could easily become a problem. Recently, Marguerite Fowler spoke to the organisers of these classes, to see where they fit into our aspirations for Ballycran and has taken the time to share her discovery with us here, in her own words and pictures.

Bernie Doran, tutor of the crochet class, told me that as a native of Ballycran parish, she has been a lifelong supporter of the club. In fact, her dad, Hughie Ennis played hurling for Ballycran in the early days. Bernie’s sister Una Gilmore, along with Maire Mallon, approached her and asked if she would do a crochet class in McKenna Hall, as she was an experienced and interested teacher, to which she gladly agreed. Bernie had done various other classes and was glad to help with a fundraising opportunity for us.

At this point in time, the class has been going for 5 years, and despite starting small, with around only 8 members, it has grown in size, due to the fact that most people who join keep on coming back. The age range spans from 18 to mid 80’s! The early members became more proficient in their skills and needing less guidance, could enjoy the social aspect with a natter and a cup of tea, whilst working away on their individual projects. Now, Bernie has time to offer the newcomers support through guidance and encouragement.

I asked Bernie what she liked most about the class, “ I love meeting people and enjoy how they come along for not only crochet, but also for social interaction. It’s great to see a new mum making a lovely blanket which teaches her child the colours. It’s about forming new friendships with people you might not otherwise have met. This is truly a cross community class, where strong connections have been forged with the local Church of Ireland. People enjoy the craic as well as making some beautiful pieces, which at times they could hardly believe they were capable of crafting. I loved sharing my own skills and keeping this lovely pastime alive gave me a great sense of achievement!”

Over the last few years, life, as we knew it, has changed a lot. With the onset of Covid, lots of us became more or less housebound. Covid and its consequences had a huge impact on the whole community. But in Ballycran Crochet club, the isolation, which could have been a nightmare for many, was not allowed to take hold. The WhatsApp group, which is now an attribute of everyday life, kept everyone together, and people were still engaged in their own projects, albeit at a distance. In fact, Bernie was there virtually, on hand to offer her expert advice to anyone who needed it.

The class is thriving now – round about 20 participants meet each week in 6 week blocks. Comments from the ladies are so positive, and everyone is obviously enjoying the classes, “Everyone is very engaged in a happy learning environment, with a lovely
handcrafted piece of work to be proud of.”, said one member and “Learning a new craft whilst enjoying a few hours with great company – I wouldn’t miss it!”, said another.  “It’s great fun, and we’re always learning something new!” Thanks, Bernie and the crochet club, for your comments – A very popular class in McKenna Hall!

The Flower Arranging Class also started around 5 years ago – I had tried the crochet, but I’m afraid I didn’t last – my skills weren’t great! So I decided to try and get a tutor to do a flower arranging demonstration. Many years ago there had been classes in McKenna, and I felt it would be something that would appeal to various age-groups. After a bit of research, I approached Dianne McNamara, who has a lot of experience in this area. Dianne too had a strong connection with the Club: her father, Devlin Murphy, had also played hurling for Ballycran in the early days, and Dianne originally lived in the parish before she married. She was happy to join us, so I advertised on Facebook and got lots of excited ladies wanting to join our new venture. So, from day 1, we’ve had expert tuition, fun and a sense of belonging in a close-knit group. Like the Crochet club, we started small. Over the years, numbers have fluctuated. We tend to be more seasonal – classes last for 4 weeks at a time, with the first week being a demo week, followed by 3 weeks of creating. So, we usually have classes around Easter, early summer, autumn and Christmas, with class numbers varying from 8 to 19 or 20! Christmas is extremely popular – this year we had 19 in that class.

Covid was a very difficult time for most of us, and not being able to have the classes was tough. Of course lots of us continued our arranging at home, sharing our photos through the Whatsapp group. We continued to encourage each other and it was good to keep in touch even though it was over the internet. How exciting it was for us all to get back together again – masks and all!

As with the crochet ladies, we come from a variety of backgrounds, ages and places. This is one of the things that is so important – the diversity of the group is what has sealed friendships, both new and old, and allowed us to share our stories with each other. Cross community, inter-parish and drawn from every age group from 20’s to 80’s, this is our recipe for success in Ballycran! What Dianne says she loves about the class is the craic and the banter. She encourages each of us to be individual in our creations, and the variety of the arrangements is what makes it really special. It’s an informal, relaxed evening and Dianne enjoys the fact that every age group has something to offer and share with the others. For some of the older members who felt isolated during the pandemic, it is a wonderful opportunity to get out and mix with others, and most important, to reconnect with those who have become firm friends over the past 5 years! At the end of each class comes a sense of pride and achievement – the feel good factor, you might say.

When I asked people to share their thoughts on the Flower Arranging class, Lou Bailie from Ballyhalbert was delighted to tell us, “I really love coming to this class – it has done me a power of good! You just leave your troubles outside the door, and concentrate on the flowers!” One of our newcomers told me, “The time passes so quickly – learning, laughing, chatting and a cup of tea, amidst a very supportive group of flower arrangers. I love the diverse age range. Thank you!”

Finally, a few comments from established members, “ Flower arranging for me has 4 C’s – Creativity, Challenge, Company and Craic. Covid changed all that for a while, but being back at flower arranging has given me back those 4 C’s!” “ Flower arranging classes give the opportunity to meet others with similar interests, renew old friendships and establish new ones, get some sense of normality for a few hours in the week. We feel part of a community through social interaction and learning new skills which we can share.”

So, my own personal thoughts on our class are, I like everything about it, as others have previously said. But what I love most is that it makes me feel good about myself – I never felt I was a particularly creative person, but when I look at the flower arrangements I’ve done with Dianne’s guidance, I feel very proud of the beauty of what I’ve achieved. Thanks Dianne!

Marguerite Fowler

By michaelcorcoran Wed 4th Jan