Getting on with the job in Urru Bandon

Nicola making coffee in Urru Bandon

If you want something done, ask a busy person. Well how about a young woman who has 2 roles for 3 days each and still enjoys helping out at home on a Sunday? Nicola is talking to me at a table in the corner of the bright and spacious Urru Bandon delicatessen.

She works here from Thursday to Saturday and has taken a break from sorting and tidying the cookery book area to tell me about her jobs, her interests and her ambition.   As she talks I admire her seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for life.

Nicola attends QDS, a Cope Foundation Day Support centre in Togher from Monday to Wednesday. Here, she says, she gets to hang out with her friends.  “I love the fun” she says about QDS. Urru, it seems, is more serious but Nicola says she loves working here too.

Even in the short duration of my visit it is apparent that Urru has a regular loyal clientele who are welcomed and valued.  Nicola explains her role in this: “ A customer comes in the door and I always say hello and ask how they are. I move on to the next job then – Ruth says keep it short and get back to the job, so I do”. Ruth Healy is Urru Bandon’s owner and even though she is Nicola’s aunt it seems she shows no favoritism towards her as an employee.   

What Nicola’s employer has to say:

Ruth contacted me in my role with Field of Dreams Cork to offer her experience as employer to a person with Down syndrome.  Field of Dreams aims to offer adults with Down syndrome training in work and life skills as a stepping stone to supported employment within the Cork business community.

Ruth is adamant that with the right supports and approach to training, a person with Down syndrome is as likely as any other person to become a valuable employee. “All of us have baggage that we carry, Down syndrome is just another thing thrown into the mix”, says Ruth. “Sure, it is important to show Nicola each task broken down into small steps but once she’s got it she will do it as well as anyone and better than many”. Ruth is on a mission to challenge stigma and preconceptions. “If Nicola can do her job as well as she does”, says Ruth “then I believe other people with Down syndrome can do likewise.”

The range of jobs that Nicola does in Urru is expanding. She has been trained in using the coffee machine, loves (yes loves) to mop the floor and helps with serving lunch to customers. She is as willing to help when doors close at 6 pm as she is earlier in the day. In fact, during my visit, Nicola referred to her love of helping people a number of times.

Nicola’s aspirations go beyond her lattes

It would be easy to say that Nicola is a lucky young lady. She has found a job where she is happy and appreciated but that would be too simple.  At 26 years, Nicola is not finished experiencing life just yet. In 5 years time, she tells me, she would like to have moved on to something new. Ideas of what this might be include dancing, film making, teaching art and craft. Nicola has a particular interest in fashion and style and would like to organise a fashion show. “ I love reading the stories of the chefs’ lives in the cook books” she says nodding towards the well stocked book shelves “I like hearing of new experiences”.

Ruth rows in to support her niece, “ Nicola is really eager to learn, always up for the next thing”. For me, however, the greatest thumbs up for giving people with Down syndrome a chance in the workplace came from Nicola’s colleague, Ola. “I have a Masters degree in Positive Psychology”, she tells me “ and everyday Nicola is teaching me more than I ever learned in university. She has a better understanding of kindness, of honesty and of being the best she can be than anyone I have met. I love coming to work when I know she will be here. Urru is a brighter place when she is here.” Well, who’s going to argue with that?

By Grace Hamilton, project worker Field of Dreams Cork

Find out more – Urru Bandon / Employability

Field of Dreams Cork is a project of Down Syndrome Cork with the objective of providing training and meaningful work opportunities to adults with Down syndrome in a market garden setting in Curraheen, Cork. The site has been kindly provided by the Munster Agricultural Society. More information

Urru Culinary Store can be found on McSwiney Quay, Bandon. More information Ruth receives financial assistance towards Nicola’s wages from the Department of Social Protection. This and other support was facilitated by the Employability agency. More information