IN THE FLOW Ryan Calwey (third from left) and Padraig O’Hora (sixth from left) pictured with volunteers and particants at the Flow Community Project disco in The Cot and Cobble, Ballina.
When young graduates finish college, they have big decision to make. Some decide to continue their education, others choose to go straight into the job market, others still head for the hills and go travelling.
Ballina man Ryan Cawley chose the road less travelled and decided he wanted to put his talents to work helping other people.
While in the final year of his Business degree course in Galway, Ryan came across the award-winning arts and personal development programme ‘That’s Life’. It is run by the Brothers of Charity and helps people with intellectual disability to realise their artistic potential. Ryan was inspired by what he witnessed.
“They run monthly discos in the Róisín Dubh in Galway and design the decor for the venue in arts and crafts workshops and train DJs in to DJ at each disco. The inclusivity of the whole thing blew me away. There was cool underground music, and as I had just finished up by college degree I felt this would be a cool thing to get involved in up in Ballina,” the 23-year-old part-time DJ told The Mayo News.
However, he discovered there was no such service in Ballina, or anywhere in Mayo. He had a chat with fellow Ballina man Padraig O’Hora, who works as a social care assistant with Western Care, and the pair decided to run with the idea of starting their own disco for adults with intellectual disabilities in Ballina.
In the flow
Their first disco was in the former Longnecks nightclub (now The Cot and Cobble) in Ballina during the annual Salmon Festival in July.
“We decided to give the workshops a go and try to train in five DJs who would each play on the night of the disco. There was four workshops running consecutively up to the disco, and we got arts and crafts created by adults with intellectual disabilities lent to us for the night to feature in the club. We chewed off what we believed we could handle, and the disco was a huge success. We were immediately hit with ‘When’s the next one?’ from all attendees,” explained Ryan.
The event attracted over 100 people, and the success prompted Padraig and Ryan to keep going, and they created the Flow Community Project. They organised a second disco last Halloween, and increased their workshops to include an arts and crafts workshop headed by Nora Giblin, a retired arts teacher, while a dance workshop is headed by Áine Egan of Danceworld.
“What we are trying to do as a whole is create an environment first and foremost for people with disabilities to come, integrate and express themselves and enjoy themselves in a safe environment along with their families and friends,” said Padraig.
“With the workshops we are basically trying to give an opportunity to these people with disabilities in our communities, to get them engaged in different elements of art, like DJ music, dance, art and some other areas like photography, where they can engage in their interests. The disco is a culmination of all their work, and it allows these people to come out on a Friday or Saturday and enjoy themselves like everyone else in the community.”
The 26-year-old Ballina Stephenites footballer said he was ecstatic when Ryan came to him with the idea, as he works with people with disabilities in his day job and sees firsthand the difficulties that arise when they complete their formal education.
“We are trying to fill that void and give them structure and an outlet and say, ‘There are friends in my community I can interact with through things like dance and music’. Ryan touched on something really important when he first came to me, and that was the power of music and art,” he explained.
“We have seen in our workshops that no matter the disability or the problems they have, once they are interacting in something they are passionate about and enjoy, all of those problems kind of disappear.
“You look past the disability … it is just the human level of enjoyment and satisfaction through the arts. We have only hosted two events and we have seen friendships emerge and hopefully the discos will bond the community a bit more for them,” Padraig explained.
The Flow Community Project operates on a very limited budget. All the workshops and discos are run voluntarily, and the facilities are provided free of charge. The two lads are really grateful to everyone who has helped them. Without that support, they said, they would not have been able to get the project off the ground.
Ryan and Padraig are now busy organising a Christmas disco on December 19 in The Cot and Cobble, and they are looking forward to 2020, with more workshops and another disco planned for Easter. They also want to bring the whole community with them on their journey.
“We are applying for charitable status for 2020. We are looking to put more time and energy into this project, and we have some really exciting proposals that can engage and integrate everyone in our community,” said Padraig.
“Our whole thing is about creating an inclusive community, and we want to change our town and the way things operate. We hope to make physical changes for these people. One thing is there is no wheelchair swing in Ballina, which is crazy when you think of all the people in wheelchairs and they never got the opportunity to simply use a swing.
“We are looking at bits and pieces like that to change if we get the backing of the community, which we think we will.”
While both men have full-time jobs they say that the joy that the participants and their families get from Flow Community Project is inspiring them to continue.
“Ever since the first event, myself and Ryan came away from it in awe, and from that moment we were inspired and were going to do this. We saw parents coming out crying with happiness and so delighted that their children and family can enjoy themselves. Once you see that you are sold.”
More information on Flow Community Project is available on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Flowcommunityproject.