“I never imagined the volunteering would lead to paid work.”
John Lyons from Limerick worked in construction for 20 years, felt the brunt of the decline, began volunteering and, lo and behold, 18 months later he’s looking at being paid once more for construction related work.
Along the way, he and colleague Ursula Mullane have become social entrepreneurs, though he doesn’t accord himself any fancy titles.
“I’m just the handyman,” he says, modestly. “I saw an advert in the paper looking for volunteers to help the elderly and I said, ‘Yeah, by all means’.”
The advert sought volunteers to help older people or people with disabilities who had house repairs to carry out, but couldn’t afford a handyman.
John hadn’t done voluntary work before this and soon found himself giving between four to six hours a week.
“My motivation was that I was at home and if I was doing nothing, I thought I’d love to go out and help.”
WHAT IF YOU’VE GOT NOBODY?
“Both my parents are elderly and while they can call on me anytime, I thought ‘What if you don’t have somebody there to do it for you?’”
“I’ve learned more in the past months… I’ve been to more meetings, you know,” he says, at the same time throwing his eyes to heaven. “Meetings are part and parcel of it, but if you’re just used to work…”
However, from regular meetings, ideas grow.
“Launching the service in Limerick was the brainchild of a very clever man called Mick Brown and a new company grew from it which we’ve called Community Repair and Maintenance Limited.
“As far as I know, this is the first of its kind in the country.”
The difference between the two is that one is free (but restricted to over-65s for example) while the new company offers a reliable handyman service to everyone at “affordable” rates.
PUMPING PROFITS BACK IN FOR 3 MONTHS
“I never imagined the volunteering would lead to paid work,” remarks John. However, his bank account won’t reflect any change for the time being.
“Because it’s just starting off, myself and the other director (Ursula) have made a joint-agreement not to take any funds out of the company, to pump all profits back in for the first three months. After that, we’ll get paid.
“We’ve completed a couple of jobs in the first month and we received a grant (from the Care & Repair Committee and the Paul Partnership) so we’ve a lot of work to do in the community centres.”
The company has a number of things going for it. Given its origins, it has a strong social ethos, the two employees have a track record around the city, and the company can allay the fears of anyone feeling vulnerable and reluctant to let strangers into their home.
“The people we go to might be on their own, but the fact that there’s a woman who can accompany me should help them feel more comfortable. Ursula has great DIY skills herself,” he says.
The company would like to see its model copied around the country and people are welcome to call them to find out more.
Meanwhile, Mick who got the ball rolling in Limerick has moved on and is now a project worker with COPE in Galway.
Oddly, given the gender range within the company, they still happily call it an “affordable handyman service”.
“Oh, we have to be PC, do we? Ursula doesn’t mind. Just make sure you say it’s affordable and it’s for everyone,” replies John.
* John has been supported in his voluntary work and in social enterprise development by the PAUL Partnership, through funding provided under the LCDP, and through Limerick City Enterprise Board.
T: 061-513645. M: 083-1309895.
Address: Our Lady of Lourdes Community Centre,
INTERVIEW BY: ALLEN MEAGHER