AMID a tidy forest of vine tomatoes and sweetcorn in the middle of Abbeyfeale, a new community work placement scheme is already bearing fruit.
Since last Monday Michael Body, a 30-year-old welder who has been out of work for two years, has been clearing weeds and watering vegetables in the Abbeyfeale community garden.
For the next twelve months, Michael will work at the garden for five mornings a week under the Government’s new ‘Tús’ scheme, which aims to give long-term unemployed people opportunities to work for the benefit of their local communities.
The scheme was created in last year’s Budget, and last week the first three Tús community work placements in county Limerick were filled.
The project, which is administered on a local level by West Limerick Resources, will eventually see 80 unemployed people working with community and voluntary schemes in West Limerick.
Mary Murphy, project co-ordinator with West Limerick Resources, said that they are now seeking applications from community projects in the county who feel they could benefit from a Tús worker.
“We’ve started well, but the scheme can’t work without community involvement. We have had very good interest so far.
“We want to put the message out there that this is something that can benefit people who’ve been struggling to get work, and community groups as well”.
Ms Murphy said that the example of the Abbeyfeale garden, which has been “transformed” since Michael started work there last Monday, shows how the Tús scheme can have an immediate impact.
Michael, who is a native of Hammersmith in London but has lived in Abbeyfeale for over two years, said that he is relishing the chance to get back into a routine after being out of work for so long.
“I find it very rewarding. It’s something I didn’t do before, but I think I’ll definitely look at doing more. It’s better than sitting at home.
“When they said I had the chance to come back here and do something, I jumped at it.”
Under the Tús scheme, the Department of Social Protection contact people who have been in receipt of social welfare for over a year and ask them if they would be willing to work 19-and-a-half hours a week in order to earn an extra €20.
At the same time, West Limerick Resources receive applications from not-for-profit community groups who are looking for help. They subsequently interview those candidates who have agreed to enter the Tús scheme, and then find the best match between each worker and project.
Ms Murphy said that as well as helping out worthy initiatives in their area, Tús workers get the chance to pick up new skills and experience that will stand to them when they finally get back into the workforce.
The Abbeyfeale community garden, which is adjacent to the local parochial house on land donated by the parish, has been in existence for three years.
It was set up and run by the Abbeyfeale farmers’ market, who sell the produce at their weekly market and donate the proceeds to charity.
Following grants of €1,000 each from Limerick County Council and Kerry County Council, a polytunnel was erected on the plot, allowing for the cultivation of even more varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Marian Harnett, of the voluntary committee which set up the garden, said that with the added help of the Tús scheme, plans are in place to further expand the garden.
Any community projects in West Limerick that wish to be included in the Tús initiative have been asked to contact 069 79110.