The Light of the LanternBack
[The article below, by Maeve O'Keeffe, appeared in a recent edition of the Evening Echo newspaper.]
Imagine being able to drop into a stranger’s house for a cup of tea and a chat, and being listened to, no strings attached. Imagine a place of welcome where people, no matter what their background, race, age or gender, can feel at home and voice their hopes in working for a better world… Too good to be true, like a tenet from the United Nations or even the 1916 Proclamation?
Well, it’s happening right here in Cork city, up the steps and behind the red door on 14, George’s Quay. The Lantern Community Project is a small, independent community centre established by the Presentation Sisters, offering a place of welcome to support individuals and groups in developing their skills and promoting community education.
Following in the spirit of Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Order in 1775, who shone a light on injustice and offered hope and education to the poor during the Penal Times in Ireland, the Lantern Project is an inclusive community where everyone - young, old, local parishioners, new Irish and migrants, women and men from across the city of Cork - are welcome to drop in for a cuppa (the kettle is always on) and check out what it has to offer.
There are various courses available (mostly free) such as Health and Wellbeing, Personal Development, Arts Projects, Communication, Men’s Cook and Share a Meal, Meitheal Mara Boat Project, and many more. Karina Healy, The Lantern’s Acting Co-ordinator, welcomed me and told me how the team have commissioned a film to showcase what the initiative is about. “The Lantern is a place of welcome,” explained Karina, “But it’s also a learning and creative space open to everyone.”
The film shows footage of the people taking part in the various courses - the pottery, crochet, creative writing groups, the Meitheal Mara boat building in Crosses Green (a team project with Churchfield Trust), the men playing darts and pool in the Drop-in Centre, and the four-panel mural created by the men in the Art Project which represents what the Lantern means to them.
Kieran tells me how he painted himself hunched up like a gorilla, feeling sad and down in himself. Tim’s figure of a dark shadow lost and alone in a crowded room represents his isolation. He speaks of the importance of getting out and not being imprisoned in your house. Sean says: “Art was something I couldn’t do but through Spark (their art tutor), I did.” Projects like the mural bring benefits such as being part of a group, finding friendship and feeling appreciated. Elaine similarly speaks of having been lonely, but through friendships made in Lantern and taking part in an art course she made a little book called SMILE which she carries in her handbag. It brings her comfort. Karina had other stories of how Lantern is making a difference to people. “The Men’s ‘Cook and Share a Meal’ is the highlight for many as they live alone.
With tutor Denis, they all do different jobs like peeling carrots, potatoes, then eat together. “Or a lady who lives independently but was so lonely at night. We put her in touch with her local Irish Countrywomen’s Association and now she’s also going out playing cards. “We try to meet the person where they are and with what they need. It could be only a small thing like an introduction to a local club but be really big for them.” “Self-care is a big thing,” added Karina. “A man who was always dishevelled turned up one day clean-shaven and gorgeous; or for people who just need that bit of extra support in dealing with situations like getting to hospital appointments, it might be possible to put them in touch with someone who offers an advocacy service. “Lantern is about the empowerment of the person and making sure their voice is heard, to allow people to be themselves and create a safe environment without judgement. “We offer education in a spirit of love, acceptance and kindness, where there’s always a cup of tea and a welcome.”
As part of the Life Long Learning Festival, the Lantern will hold workshops in their centre in George’s Quay from April 11-16, while the mural created by the Men’s Group will be on display in Cork City Library. “We will print postcards of the mural to hand out during the Life Long Learning Festival,” added Karina. “We want to let people know about Lantern. We commissioned the documentary to highlight what The Lantern does and to show the people who fund this resource, some of the positive outcomes and the good that is happening. The Lantern project is an initiative of the Presentation sisters and we are grateful for all our supporters, CETB, HSE, Cork City Council, CESCA and SHEP.
The film will be launched in the beginning of May.” Nano Nagle was also known as the Lady of the Lantern as she worked with impoverished families and set up small schools in 18th century Cork.
The Presentation Sisters are continuing Nano’s tradition through their support and are currently constructing a more modern wheelchair-accessible facility in the South Presentation convent building which should be ready in September. During the Life Long Learning Festival, starting on April 11, The Lantern Community invite you to come through the red door and see the workshops and courses on offer. You’ll be sure of a welcome and a cup of tea!
[Re-printed courtesy of the Evening Echo, 5 April 2016]